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Ken’s vintage movie vault


It’s strange to think that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting– the movie that put Leith on the map – is nearly 30 years old. And hardly any of it was filmed in Leith. Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel was a sensational bestseller. Since then, there’s been two movies, follow-up books, merch and talk of a musical. A stage version comes to this year’s Fringe.

In 2003 Tim Bell started taking fans of Welsh’s masterwork on walking tours of Leith locations featured in the book. Bell’s updated guide Choose Leith, Choose Life (Luath Press) looks at the Trainspotting cult – from literary sensation to the drugs ’n’ poverty socio-demographics that inspired Welsh’s take of everyday junkie folk.

The film caught the anarchic audaciousness of the novel. Variety called it ‘A Clockwork Orange for the 90s’. It had a cracking soundtrack from the likes of Bowie, Sleeper, Leftfield and Heaven 17. The iconic poster was much parodied and the film made an international star of Ewan McGregor, featuring as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.

Darkly comic and visually stunning Trainspotting on screen had a series of unforgettable set-pieces from the opening chase sequence (set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life) and ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ to the baby crawling on the ceiling.

For something a little less grim comes a crisp blu-ray of 1996’s British indie movie Beautiful Thing (BFI). Set in the grey, brutalist Thamesmead estate in South East London it tells of Jamie and Ste who, against the odds, find love. What might have been a gritty Ken Loach-type drama (homophobia, Section 28, age of consent, HIV/Aids) is instead a hugely uplifting and hopeful tale with blue skies, primary colours and Mama Cass Elliot playing a pivotal role on the soundtrack.

They say the devil has the best tunes but in cinematic depictions Old Nick is often portrayed as campy and ludicrous. Think of Rosemary being impregnated by Satan in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

There’s something much more evil at play in 1941’s All That Money Can Buy (aka The Devil and Daniel Webster) recently released on blu-ray by Criterion. It’s the timeless Faust legend of the man who sells his soul in return for riches on Earth. It never ends well.

Walter Huston plays the Prince of Darkness who bewitches a poor farmer to trade his being for the good life. Can a celebrated lawyer get the rich farmer off the hook, even when he summons up a host of ghostly outlaws for the jury?

In last year’s mammoth (600+ pages) biography Erotic Vagrancy (riverun) Roger Lewis told the story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It pulled together assorted strands – psychosexual, cultural, familial – to show how the couple remoulded celebrity culture in the 1960s.

Now Cocktails with George and Martha by Philip Gefter (Bonnier Books) focuses on the remarkable, Oscar-winning movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Based on Edward Albee’s play about a middle-aged academic and his wife who, with another couple, spend an endless night of booze and bickering. Argumentative doesn’t cover the half of it.

The movie caught Burton and Taylor at the height of their fame, creative powers (and wealth).

It was the last decent film either of them made and was widely seen as an echo of the real-life battling duo as famous for their fallings out and makings up as they were for their diamond-studded jet-set lifestyle. Gefter’s book is full of delicious, gossipy revelations.

Stanley Kubrick’s film directing began in the 1950s and ended in 1999 with the Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise Eyes Wide Shut. Despite his long career Kubrick made only 13 movies but what greats they were.

From the Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus (1960) to the end-of-the-world dramedy Dr Strangelove (1963); from the noir The Killing (1956) to the super scary The Shining (1980) he never repeated himself. He famously captured the glow and flicker of 18th century candlelight (special lenses) in Barry Lyndon (1975) and the vicissitudes of 21st century space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Robert P Kolker and Nathan Abrams have written a marvellous biography of the mercurial movie-maker entitled Kubrick: An Odyssey (Faber). Kubrick was a grave and austere perfectionist (he died in 1999 and was making movies up until the end) with a curious mix of humourlessness and self-indulgence. Many found his work tedious and said he was not a natural storyteller.

Famously he withdrew his ultra-violent A Clockwork Orange (based on Anthony Burgess’s novel) from British circulation in 1973 after reports in the media that the film was responsible for copycat thuggery.

One thing’s for sure, there will never be A Clockwork Orange: The Musical. ■

X: KenWilson84

From above: Faber & Faber £25, Bloomsbury £28.80


Folklore suggests the devil has the best tunes but Old Nick is often portrayed as camp and ludicrous


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