Armchair Cinephile

Armchair Cinephile

John DeFore on DVD

I often dream of trains

Rumors have circulated for years that the Criterion Collection was preparing a fancy edition of that '90s sensation Trainspotting. Not so: Miramax has gone it alone with a two-disc release that, dull package design aside, is everything one expects from a top-shelf DVD: Audio commentary, assorted making-of material (including a brief look at director Danny Boyle's visual inspirations for the film and a long look at the prosthetic arm used for a graphic shooting-up sequence), and a few short but entertaining deleted scenes.

Years later, there's still an intriguing argument to be had over the movie's influence on potential drug fiends. Clearly, the plot details the sordid nature of the addict's life. On the other hand, the film's style is so thrilling - its colors are a delight, its editing sets synapses firing, its use of music was a rare rival to its contemporary Pulp Fiction - that it might seem to contradict the screenplay's cautionary message. The junkie's life is hell, Boyle says, but it ain't boring. The jury's still out over which sensory influence won the hearts and minds of kids in the audience.

I'm told that the novel made more sense of the cryptic title: Its characters spend a great deal of time watching trains. Readers who resented this omission from the film should pick up The Station Agent (Miramax), a lovely little film that couldn't be further from Trainspotting in tone or style, but does have a lot of evocative footage of locomotives. Last year, critics begged folks to see the film and the masses evidently answered, "I'll catch it on video." Well, here's your chance to see a movie that, like some of the best indies of the previous decade, mined its quirky humor from characters rather than affectations.

Many films tried to be Trainspotting, and practically none succeeded. The Brazilian crime saga City of God (Miramax) is one of the few that also boils the blood, although director Fernanado Meirelles clearly would admit Scorsese's influence before Boyle's. Nevertheless, City's exciting visual sensibility and innovative editing recall Trainspotting: One sequence, in which a series of tricky cross-fades chronicles an apartment's evolution from respectable home to den of iniquity, feels like it should have been in the earlier film.

The Station Agent,
City of God

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise
Mike Leigh Collection Volume Two
(Water Bearer Films)
Given Trainspotting's influence, it's hard to believe it isn't even 10 years old. A Hollywood generation has passed; enough time for Boyle to make a big-budget flop, return to the BBC for some woodshedding, and conquer again with the raggedly post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later. Fans who resent missing that mid-period work on these shores will appreciate Koch's release of Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. A sort of Glengarry Glen Ross meets Roger Dodger in Bleaksville, the film follows a novice vacuum cleaner salesman saddled with the U.K.'s most obnoxious partner. The latter role goes to Timothy Spall, who has won hearts in so many lovable-sad-sack parts that this casting is a shock. He doesn't quite overcome the unlikely role, and the film (shot on deliberately crummy-looking video, by the way) is unlikely to delight viewers not absolutely rabid for Boyle. But it does serve as a nice illustration of how an artist gets from Trainspotting to 28 Days Later.

Vacuuming has less in common with its predecessor than with the work of Mike Leigh, whose magnificent, if frequently depressing, oeuvre is being issued by Water Bearer Films. Mike Leigh Collection Volume Two rounds up three of the Brit legend's '70s films: Who's Who, about brokers trying to edge their way up in society; Nuts in May, featuring two middle-class hippie wannabes (a Leigh specialty); and the aptly titled Bleak Moments - generally regarded as one of the director's finest early films - about a woman chafing at the responsibility of caring for her mentally ill sister. Made for television, they're not as crisp in image as they are in observation.

Danny Boyle might say that Mike Leigh represents the realistic, class-conscious British tradition from which he ran screaming, but even a work as hyper-real as Trainspotting - which takes for granted that pub life, alcoholic football fans, and life on the dole should be shown on the silver screen - couldn't have happened without the influence of this humbly brilliant chronicler of the class struggle. •


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