Monday, 10 April 2017

Trainspotting - The Musical

Years after it hit the screens I finally managed to get around to watching Trainspotting. I'm not really all that sure what it was that spurred me to actually do it, but for some reason it wasn't one of those films that really jumped out at me. Okay, it was a pretty popular film, an one that was widely watched and talked about, but for some reason a film about a bunch of junkies never seemed to grab me all that much, which is surprising since I have watched films and read books about people who over indulge in drugs, in particular Burrows' Junky. Mind you, I am also somewhat surprised that reading Junky didn't provide the impetus to watch this film either.

Anyway, one night, after a rather hectic day out, I sat down in my lounge and looked the film up on Youtube. In a way I am starting to appreciate this modern aspect of watching movies since now we don't have to worry about hiring a movie from the video store, go home and discover that it has been scratched to buggery and simply won't work, and then can't be bothered going and finding another copy namely because it is a weekly and the only copy available in the store. No wonder people have resorted to downloading films and TV series over the internet since some people simply can't justify purchasing the DVD, and the video store never offers any guarantee that the film will actually work. Sure, we can get out money back, but the thing is I don't actually want my money back, I just want to watch the film.

Well, once again I have gone completely off track, but then again I guess it happens to be my voice. So, here I am sitting down, watching Trainspotting, and suddenly discovering that it is in fact really, really good. In fact it was so good that it basically deserved a blog post all of its own, but I decided to hold off and wait until I watched the sequel which was about to hit the cinemas. However, after watching the sequel (which, while it was a good movie, and explained a number of things that were left hanging in the previous movie, such as why it was called Trainspotting when nobody was actually watching any trains, and there was only one shot of a train in it, I felt was a little unnecessary), I decided to let it slip for a while, at least until I watched it again.

Then I was in Adelaide for the Fringe, and as I was wandering past what used to be an underground food hall and out the front was an advertisement for Trainspotting, a play. Unfortunately the show that I wanted to see was sold out so I jumped onto the internet and sure enough is was appearing in Melbourne for the comedy festival, so all was not lost. So, I booked my tickets (well, I didn't actually, I just rocked up one night and fortunately it wasn't sold out) and then went to see how they were going to turn this film into what is effectively a stage play.

The Story

Actually, I probably can't say whether Trainspotting has a plot namely because it isn't one of those types of movies. Rather it is allowing us to have a look into the lives of five youths living in Edinburgh. The theme of the movie is basically the choices that we make, and the big choice is whether to chose life, as the advertising campaign of the time would have it, or chose a life of heroin addiction. The play is similar, in that like the film it opens with this discussion with regards to whether we chose life, or chose addiction. However the film and the play do end up diverging, which isn't surprising because I don't think they are trying to simply copy the film, but rather tell what is in effect the same story in a different way.

When you wander down into the basement (and it appears that they always chose a basement to stage the performance) you are confronted with a group of people dancing to some old school electronica. The original story was set in the early nineties, but it seems as if they are attempting to modernise it somewhat. Still, the story from the original film, and the story as we see it now is pretty much the same - in many cases we are still confronted with the problem of drugs, and while drugs may have changed, their effects are still very much the same.

However the focus of the drug in Trainspotting is heroin, and it is still a drug that is prevalent today. The thing is that it seems to have been superseded in some cases by crystal meth (or speed), at least here in Australia, but when I was in Antwerp I ended up having a discussion with somebody about drugs and he indicated that over in Europe heroin was still pretty much the drug of choice. The interesting thing is that while we may know about the effects of the drug, and its destructive nature, people still take it. Why? because it is really, really nice.

Peer Pressure

One of the stories in the film, and the play, is the story of Tommy. One of the problems with the play is that it seemed to suggest that you have already seen the film, namely because there are a lot of references to the film that aren't entirely explained in the play. Mind you, the same was the case with the film because Trainspotting is actually based on a book, and there are events in the film that are explained in the book, but not really clarified until the sequel (which appeared twenty years later).

In the film Tommy was one of the five, the others being Spud, Sickboy, Renny, and Begbie. In one sense the film follows Tommy's descent, though it seems that there are aspects of it that are out of his control. For instance he has a number of sex tapes of him and his girlfriend, and one of them is 'borrowed' by a friend. When his girlfriend discovers that the tape is missing, an argument ensures and she walks out. Up until this point Tommy is actually a very healthy person, but eventually convinces his friends to give him some heroin, and pretty much everything goes down hill from there.

You see Tommy contracts aids, which is actually a huge shock because he is the one that hasn't been using herion for as long as others have, and the others have been sharing needles as if they were in an incredibly short supply (which as a matter of fact are, namely because you simply can't walk down to the chemist and buy a ten pack). The thing with aids though is that if you land up with it (at least back in those days) it basically says one of two things about you - you are a homosexual, or you are a junky. In a sense it is a disease that if you land up with it pretty much outs you as somebody, who at the time, wasn't a respectable person - the film Philadelphia also confronted this issue.

Yet one of the hardest things that our young people face is peer pressure and the approval of our friends. Half of the reason that young people end up getting caught up with drugs, or even begin smoking, is because their friends do it. The thing is that even though our televisions may constantly be blaring out how dangerous drugs are, and how smoking is really, really bad, people still start smoking, and people still start taking drugs. The thing is that a user isn't generally going to see the drug as bad as people claim they are, and when you try to point out the dangers to them, their mind is so addled that all they can see is the joy and the comfort that the drugs bring them. In the end, in their mind, you are just peddling government propoganda

Escaping Reality

I have heard alcohol referred to as a social lubricant in that it loosens you up so that you are able to be more sociable around people. Okay, I'm not having a go at alcohol, but we need to be realistic about it in that like many of the other drugs out there, alcohol is one and it is a pretty devastating one at that. The interesting thing is that while the media and the government seem to go out of their way to decry the evils of illegal drugs, there is one that is just as dangerous that is pretty much freely available. However there is a problem - prohibition doesn't work. In fact it just changes the method of distribution and pushes the price up. Over taxing doesn't work either, as is the case with cigarettes. There are so many people out there that say that once a packet of cigarettes hits a certain price then they will quit  - well, that is the problem, if they will only quit were a certain event occurs, then they really don't want to quit in the first place.

However, the question still comes about as to why people take drugs. Well, there is the case of peer pressure, but the thing behind peer pressure is that those pressuring are doing it because they really enjoy something and they want other to experience the joy as well. The problem is that as with everything, the joy is always fleeting, which means that once it is gone, it is gone for good, and is never coming back. Well, apparently it does, but the thing is that it is never, ever, as good as that first time. This is why so call friends always want your first time to be the best, because if you hate it, well, you're not going to want to do it again.

This is the catch though - you want to go back, you always want to go back, so your waking hours are always looking at finding ways to get back to that joy, that reality, that you have been rudely awakened from. However, this is what is termed as psychological addiction - it is even worse when the addiction is physical. Yet sometimes I wonder whether a physical addiction is harder to break than a psychological addiction, because a physical addiction may induce pain and such, but a psychological addiction convinces you that you need it and that you cannot function without it, and that you will go to incredible lengths to get it.

What About Weed

I'm sure that we are well aware of the legalisation movement for marijuana that is sweeping the western world, but the question comes down as to whether it should be legalised. Well, as with all drugs, as far as I'm concerned locking users up and treating them like criminals doesn't solve the problem - if it did the gaols wouldn't be bursting at the seams and people wouldn't be smoking the stuff. The thing is that most people don't actually expect to get caught until, well, they get caught. Personally, the same should go with the small time dealers, because most small time dealers are only dealing as a way of supporting their habit, and the reality is that you don't actually make all that much money as a small time dealer.

Yet weed is a drug, and it isn't a drug like alcohol where you have have a wine with your meal and that is it, weed is a drug that when you take it it hits you. Well, if you have been taking it for a while it isn't that strong, but as a lot of marijuana users say, there is nothing better than that first smoke of the day. You see that is the thing with marijuana - you spend all day wanting to have that first smoke, and then you spend the rest of the day trying to get back there and failing. In a sense it basically makes you completely unproductive - well not quite, namely because I have known plenty of people who are regular users of marijuana that are able to hold down full time jobs.

Personally, I think drug addiction shouldn't be treated as if it were a crime, but rather as a sickness. However, one of hardest things with drug addiction is that when you are among a group of people who use drugs, then you are going to be regularly tempted to also use the drugs. However, you can't necessarily leave that group of people namely because to do so would mean that you no longer have any friends, and making friends is actually a really, really hard thing to do. The reality is that there are actually a lot of people who want to escape, but can't because of their friends.

A Final Word

Which brings me back to the film because it actually deals with these aspects of drug addiction, namely the inability to escape from your friends, and the difficulty in actually coming clean. The thing is that it is not just the story, but the way the story was constructed, namely because there has yet to be a film by Danny Boyle that I have not been impressed with. The cinematography and imagery of the film impacted me in a way that it sat with me for quite a while afterwards, and is one of the reasons that I descended those stairs to watch the play.

As for the play, it was funny, really really funny, however the film was supposed to be funny as well. The problem was that I didn't approach it as a comedy, which is why I didn't laugh. In fact I didn't think that I was supposed to laugh, but when I look back on it I can actually see how it is quite amusing. However the play is much more so, and it is also very interactive, with the actors drawing the audience into the play to the point that you are sitting there praying that they don't pick on you next. However, the structure of both the film, and the play, is that it begins with the jokes to loosen you up to prepare you for what is in effect a very confronting view of a world that many of us want to avoid. The thing is that drug addicts aren't monsters, they are just human beings, like us, who have made the wrong choices.

 Oh, and why is it called Trainspotting? Well, in the suburb of Leith in Edinburgh there was an abandoned train station and junkies would go into the station to 'shoot up'. When asked what they were doing they would reply 'we are doing a bit of trainspotting'. The term then became connected with shooting up. In fact drug users the world over use special code words to tell others what they are actually going to do. Anyway, like the film, I'll finish off with a shot of a train from overhead.

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