Around them, the storm.
But it's placid enough in here this summer day, a nice, plush chintz-rich, D.C. hotel room, as screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle mellowly answer questions about the meanings and horrors of their new film, "Trainspotting."
Hodge, the quiet one, wears his hair as punk-short as Ewan McGregor, who plays "Trainspotting's" anti-hero, the wild Scots heroin street boy Rent; meanwhile, Boyle has one of those mousse-rich things that turns his head into a frill of porcupine spikes, and if you saw them coming, you'd cross the street, or at least put your hand on your Glock.
But no: Intelligent, polite young artist types, despite the outlaw appearance, they're quite prepared to sit affably and discuss their film and the charge that it boosts heroin as a lifestyle as so many have charged.
"You'd have to be daft to think that," says Boyle, who is not Scots but English, "anyone who sees the dead baby knows it's not a pro-heroin film. And we fought to keep that in. We kept the budget very low so we could have the freedom to make the film we wanted to make. We had to show the dead baby. We were very firm. Even on a simplistic level, [the movie] is very clear and quite old-fashioned."
Making the film they wanted to make is the key. In fact, after the worldwide success of their first collaboration (with producer Andrew MacDonald), "Shallow Grave," they were offered a great many projects, particularly American projects.
"It was very flattering," recalls Hodge. "But the offers were always more complicated than they appeared. And nothing was as interesting to us as 'Trainspotting.' We became patently focused. We wanted to get the spirit of the book: defiant, funny, aggressive."
The book, by Irvine Welsh, is something of an underground classic, a language-dense riff ("vernacular acrobatics," Hodge calls it) on the heroin reality as felt through a series of short stories involving a set of interlocking characters in the Edinburgh underbelly.
"The startling effect of the book," says Boyle, "is that you expect it to fit the conventional pattern of condemnation from a paternalistic, hypocritical point of view. You don't get that. He went out of his way to avoid that approach. What you get is blazing honesty. No one has been spared."
"The narrative takes place in the random thoughts of the characters," recalls Hodge. "We had to lose all that. We amalgamated certain characters. The digressions, as wonderful as they were, had to go. What we tried to preserve was that dazzling freedom he had expressed."
Freedom, in some sense, is another key issue to the movie.
"In his book, and in the movie," says Boyle, "there are no victims, there are no bad people. They don't blame it on anyone -- not their parents, not their schools, not their society. Rent chose. He made that choice.
"There are huge pleasures in casual drug use. We have to show that. People will just tune out doomsday paternalism. Drugs are evil but we wanted to show them from the perspective of the characters. The fact is that to them, drugs are cool. The first 30 minutes of the movie are cool."
And they are: As the film opens, Rent and his mate Sick Boy are fleeing the coppers through downtown Edinburgh, after having boosted something meaningless but small-beer profitable. Yet the film captures exactly the exhilaration that the kids feel, the deep and abiding pleasure at ripping off the Man, at surviving yet another day on the streets, of just living large and free.
In what could be proclamation of the outlaw's code, Rent voices over the action: "Choose! Choose a ---------- big television or a house in the country, but choose! I chose heroin."
Boyle explains the meaning of the title, for there are no trains in "Trainspotting."
"It's a pointless hobby in England," he says, "where people just sit and record the trains that go by, to no good end. Irvine chose it and we use it as a metaphor for male obsessiveness. These boys are all obsessed -- by their drugs, by football stars of the '70s. The obsession is a way to have control over just a section of their lives in a society where basically nobody works."
But Hodge admits that the famous or infamous toilet sequence is not for everybody.
"Lots of people like it, but my family didn't care for it," he says ruefully. "But it was very important to us. It was deeply repulsive in the book. We couldn't quite show it."
"John came up with idea of Rent dropping into the loo. That was it! Making a fantasy of it! That was the movie we wanted to make!"
"The spirit's last defense is its sense of humor. Conventional people find it cheaply offensive. But it's the sense of insolent, irresponsible humor. Nothing -- not even a filthy toilet or a dead baby -- is sacred!"
Pub Date: 7/26/96