Stunt Double: The Acid House

the acid housethe acid house 2An Irvine Welsh book set in Edinburgh adapted into a film? It can only mean one thing… Glasgow once again making an appearance as the Scottish capital.

The book The Acid House is a collection of over 20 short stories by Leith’s best known novelist and the 1998 movie adaptation – supported by the Glasgow Film Fund – groups together three of the stories, namely “The Granton Star Cause”, “A Soft Touch” and “The Acid House”.

Trainspotting and Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy offered views of Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle as contrasts to the seedier sides of the city portrayed within those films. However there is no such imagery in The Acid House – just pure, unadulterated bleakness, certainly in the first two stories (funnily enough Glasgow appears most in the third one) which are played out on practically derelict yet still populated housing estates. There’s not much sign of the character redemption that is evident in Trainspotting and Ecstasy either – we are presented with some pretty grotesque characters and indeed some pretty grotesque imagery, from a close up of a fly transplanting matter from a dog’s mess onto a chicken korma in “The Granton Star Cause” to the pretty horrific looking baby “Tom” (a puppet that resembles a Terrahawks cast off and makes Chucky of Child’s Play fame look angelic by comparison) in “The Acid House”.

I may be wrong but “The Granton Star Cause” appears to have been filmed exclusively in Edinburgh – in a panoramic view of the housing estate the capital’s skyline is visible in the background. There is little to suggest to me in which city “A Soft Touch” was primarily filmed, but there is at least one brief scene – in which Michelle Gomez’ character Catriona staggers along a street at night – that is exposed as Glasgow by a glimpse of an “Evening Times” sticker in a shop window. As mentioned above, the third story – “The Acid House” – features some unmistakable Glasgow locations in quick succession. We see Jemma Redgrave’s middle class Mum Jenny and baby Tom inside the Kibble Palace at the Botanic Gardens, then walking along Dumbarton Road and going into what is in real life The Quarter Gill pub. Coco (Ewen Bremner) and Kirsty (Arlene Cockburn) are meanwhile on a shopping trip, which includes a bit of window shopping at The Diamond Centre in the Argyle Arcade.

Stunt Double: Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

ecstasyecstasy 2This 2011 film just scrapes on to Glasgow on Film, as the city’s presence is very fleeting. Yet again Glasgow is on stand-in duty for Edinburgh, however on this occasion the capital has more genuine screen time. What sets Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy apart from the likes of Trainspotting and the forthcoming Filth is that this movie is a Canadian production and therefore nearly all the interior scenes and some exterior scenes were filmed in Ontario.

Something that strikes the viewer about Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy is that the majority of the cast in this Scottish story are clearly not Scottish – natives lead actor Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd aside, the rest of the cast appear to be Canadian. Sadly Canada’s strong Scottish roots do not guarantee a natural talent for Scottish accents here – the speech of major and minor characters seems to drift between Ireland and all regions of Scotland, with shades of Welsh comedian John Sparkes and the two “Foreign Guys” characters from Family Guy even creeping in at points. Failure for an actor to carry off a foreign accent is not an unforgivable thing (good grief, Sean Connery can hardly be praised for his efforts in sounding Russian, Spanish etc), but it does feel off-putting when nearly everyone in Edinburgh seems to talk so oddly. The film should not be written off on this basis however – particularly as some internet searching threw up a Daily Record interview with Billy Boyd in which he confesses his frustration with the lack of Scottish input to the feature, but states that director Rob Heydon had been trying his best for some years to make it a Canadian-UK co-production and that lack of funding from this side of the Atlantic led to him grudgingly taking so much of the production to Canada.

For their part, Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd do the story justice – Sinclair in particular appears particularly comfortable as the central character Lloyd, a young man submerged in the world of chemical drugs and looking to break free from it. Canadian Kristin Kreuk, as Lloyd’s love interest Heather, is good too – shining perhaps as she is playing the part as a Canadian and not having to attempt a Lothian accent.

The film has a decent vibe about it – a good pace, although some sped up sequences feel like they have been borrowed from Trainspotting. Edinburgh looks pretty good throughout.

Glasgow Royal Infirmary appears in exterior footage for a hospital scene, while there is a very brief glimpse of Lloyd carrying out an exchange on the steps of what was Borders book store (soon to be a Zizzi restaurant) on Royal Exchange Square.

 

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.

Movie Glaswegians: Kelly Macdonald

Kelly Macdonald is another alumnus of Trainspotting and yet another of that film’s cast who has had a rich and varied film and television career since. Among her credits are No Country For Old Men, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Disney-Pixar’s Brave, in which she voiced the lead character – Merida. And although not a movie title, also worthy of a mention is her role as Margaret Thompson in the hugely successful HBO television series Boardwalk Empire.

Alongside Trainspotting, other Glasgow-connected works in which Macdonald has appeared include Strictly Sinatra, Stella Does Tricks, The Decoy Bride (all filmed or partly filmed in Glasgow)and Lassie, in which Dublin doubles as a mid 20th century Glasgow.

Kelly Macdonald was born in Glasgow on 23rd February 1976. She is married to fellow Glaswegian Dougie Payne, bassist and backing vocalist of the band Travis, and at the time of this posting the couple are expecting their second child.

Movie Glaswegians: Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle was born in the Maryhill area of Glasgow on 14th April 1961, and today lives in the city with his make up artist wife and their three children.

Carlyle is a familiar face on cinema and television screens around the world, with a wide variety of roles under his belt. The first movie role that really brought Carlyle to prominence was his turn in 1996’s Trainspotting (set in Edinburgh but partly shot in Glasgow) as the psychopathic Begbie. He has also played other unnerving and short tempered characters in productions including The 51st State and television’s Cracker, not to mention his portrayal of Bond villain Renard in The World Is Not Enough and the eponymous dictator in television movie Hitler: The Rise Of Evil. Yet as testament to his acting skills Robert Carlyle is not typecast and appears as comfortable playing more compassionate characters in films such as Carla’s Song and 28 Weeks Later.

As mentioned above Trainspotting was partly filmed in Glasgow and half of Carla’s Song is set in the city – another Glasgow-related movie in which Carlyle appears is Stone Of Destiny. All three titles will be studied by Glasgow on Film soon.

Among Robert Carlyle’s many other movie credits are The Full Monty, Eragon and Once Upon A Time In The Midlands.