Stunt Double: Trainspotting

trainspottingtrainspotting 2trainspotting 3trainspotting 4Trainspotting could be regarded as one of the most significant British films of the modern era, and in Scottish terms is probably the most significant film full stop. Glasgow on Film has already studied the successful careers of Glaswegians Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald, while the item on Perfect Sense just scratched the surface of Perth-born Ewan McGregor’s cinematic journey and the Shallow Grave article alluded to director Danny Boyle’s rise to legendary status. All of these inspirational stories and more are linked to the movie Trainspotting.

Released in 1996, Trainspotting is based on the novel of the same name by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh. It follows the lives of a group of heroin addicts living in Edinburgh, with McGregor’s Renton being the central character. He is joined by friends Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and the previously mentioned Begbie – played tremendously by Robert Carlyle. Kelly Macdonald completes the top billed cast as Renton’s schoolgirl lover Diane, while James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson and Peter Mullan are among the strong support. The film has been described as a dark comedy – a fair enough appraisal as there are plenty of laughs, many of them accompanied by a cringe or a disbelieving shake of the head (a particular scene involving Spud and some bed sheets sticks in the mind). The main strand running through the story is Renton’s attempt to leave his drug abusing life behind which, ultimately, he succeeds in as the film concludes with him relocated to London in upbeat form.

The film had and continues to have a hugely recognisable identity, which is what makes it such an important part of British cinema. Among other items of merchandise released, posters adorned bedroom walls around the UK and a memorable soundtrack brought (in some cases renewed) attention to artists as varied as Iggy Pop, Underworld and Blondie. It gained critical acclaim around the world and won awards, also being nominated for Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. From a Scottish point of view Trainspotting shook up the “shortbread tin” image of Scotland and launched a number of young acting talents into the limelight.

As with Shallow Grave, it was in fact Glasgow that lent itself to the majority of filming despite the feature being set in Edinburgh. Among the Glasgow locations used were Crosslands pub on Queen Margaret Drive, Cafe D’Jaconelli on Maryhill Road, Jordanhill School and the since demolished Volcano nightclub in Partick. Perhaps as a thank you to the city, the Odeon cinema on Renfield Street was chosen as the venue for Trainspotting‘s world premiere. Among the cast and other celebrities in attendance was Jonny Lee Miller’s girlfriend of the time, a then little known actress who would later return to Glasgow in 2011 very well known – Angelina Jolie.

Stunt Double: Shallow Grave

shallow graveshallow grave 2shallow grave 3Manchester born Danny Boyle became something of a national hero this year when he directed the stunning Isles Of Wonder opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. His films include the superb 28 Days Later and the multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. It is therefore an important feather in Glasgow’s movie making cap that the director’s first two feature films – Shallow Grave and Trainspotting – were mostly made in the city.

Glasgow on Film will be taking a closer look at Trainspotting soon, but today is about Shallow Grave. Released in 1995, the film stars Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor as three young professional friends who start out looking for a new flatmate. They settle with the suspicious Hugo, played by Keith Allen, who is soon found dead having overdosed on drugs. To the friends’ shock they find he has brought a significant stash of money under their roof and after much debating decide to dispose of his corpse with designs of their own on the money. Naturally, complications arise and acquaintances of Hugo turn up… and end up dead too. The friends’ comfortable lives as a doctor, a chartered accountant and a journalist ultimately fall apart and none of them end up better off – David (Eccleston) dead, Alex (McGregor) banged to rights by the police and Juliet (Fox) fleeing the country with none of the money.

Typically for Boyle Shallow Grave is smart, stylish and at points fast paced – never shying away from nudity or bloodshed either.

The film is set in Edinburgh, however a significant chunk of it was filmed in Glasgow with support from the Glasgow Film Fund. Glasgow locations include the Townhouse Hotel on West George Street (nowadays Europe’s largest Thai restaurant Chaophraya), which plays host to both a ceilidh scene and David’s office, and Glasgow International Airport – admittedly in Renfrewshire but bearing the city’s name nonetheless.

Starring Role: Postmortem

postmortempostmortem 2This 1998 movie evokes bittersweet feelings in Glasgow on Film. Back in summer 1997 when it was being filmed, it was the first Glasgow-shot movie that GoF really sat up and took interest in – a curiosity that has grown into the passion for the subject that exists today. Any sentimentality though is tempered by the fact that Postmortem is, well, pretty terrible.

In summer 1997 the internet was limited in terms of both availability and content so there did not appear to be the rumours or rumblings of anything coming Glasgow’s way, and by the time GoF had been alerted to the production nothing had been noticed in the newspapers either. A relative had been in the city centre and noticed a lot of crowds and commotion on Gordon Street – when she asked one of the event security people what was going on he replied that Charlie Sheen was making a film. To the naive 15 year old that was GoF this was a big thing – in the couple of years preceding there had been a lot of hype with the shooting of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting in Glasgow, and reports of Mel Gibson immersing himself in the city to prepare for Braveheart, but this appeared to represent the first time that a Hollywood name had come to Glasgow to make a film set in Glasgow (GoF had not been aware of Death Watch, with Harvey Keitel, at that point). The naivety also meant that GoF gave no consideration to the film being a low budget, straight to video release – it always seemed as if movies just came out with the same fanfare as the last one, so surely this would get its glittering premiere and be screened in multiplexes across the globe, showcasing Glasgow as it did so? No, it was straight to video and it could be suggested that Sheen’s billing as “Charles Sheen” was an attempt by his management to deflect attention from his part in the production.

So what is Postmortem about? Sheen plays James McGregor, an American cop turned author who has relocated to Scotland for peace after wrapping up a child serial killer case in the USA. When a young woman’s naked corpse turns up in his garden he is immediately arrested as the suspect, however once his name is cleared the Glasgow police turn to McGregor for help as it now appears that they have a serial killer on their hands as more women are found in a similar condition around the city. The body count grows, but as McGregor and the native detectives figure out the pattern – the killer, the son of a funeral director, has been meeting the women at funerals of their relatives and teases McGregor by faxing the obituaries of the deceased relatives to him ahead of the bodies turning up – the team manage to save a couple of lives before a confrontation at the Necropolis where the murderer kills himself.

You can tell that there is something wrong with this film before you even take the DVD out of the case – the description on the back states that McGregor “flees to a small, peaceful Scottish town…” – a ridiculous description of Glasgow that neither its champions or its critics would use, and not even justified by its portrayal within the film with one character using the phrase “…our great city of Glasgow”. Criticising the descriptor may be nit picking, but there are so many negatives about the film itself. In terms of acting, English actor Michael Halsey and Sarajevo-born Ivana Milicevic play the lead detective roles – Halsey’s accent is pretty poor but salvaged somewhat by a semi-convincing gruffness, however Milicevic’s effort is dire – one could say it sounds Irish but that would almost be a compliment. Halsey fluffs his lines at one point and the director sees fit to leave this in. Then there is the awkward moment of a victim’s father, a well spoken Scottish man telling McGregor “…you would do anything, any goddamned thing…”. There are plot holes galore: McGregor seems to live practically in the Highlands yet it’s a city centre squad that are dispatched to his house to deal with the first murder; an officer “extra” seen aiding McGregor in one scene is restraining him from apprehending a suspect less than a minute later; and a red herring scene in which one of the killer’s targets is met by an actual friend of hers is astoundingly bad.

Last points in the postmortmem of Postmortem are about the general production values. There’s a bit where Halsey’s Detective Inspector Balantine is stabbed and killed – as he drops, rather than the usual theatrical blood, what can only be described as a kind of broth spills from his mouth. And the whole movie looks like it has been filmed on someone’s mobile phone.

Scottish actors Stephen McCole and Gary Lewis make up the rest of the top billed cast.