If, like me, you were lucky (and old) enough to have attended the UK premiere of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting in Edinburgh in 1996 you would have been aware of witnessing a cultural moment. Part of that was Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking—a much-needed jolt in the arm of a moribund British movie industry dominated by period dramas and genteel comedies. Then there was the alchemy of a cast that included Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and a terrifying Robert Carlyle, as well as barmaid-turned-actress Kelly Macdonald making her debut as Diane, the underage girlfriend of McGregor’s heroin addict, Mark Renton. And, crucially, there was the political landscape into which the movie was born—the tail end of 18 years of Conservative rule that had decimated Britain’s industrial base.
More important than any of these things, however, was the scabrous novel by Irvine Welsh, a boiling cauldron of fury and outrage leavened by the antic, madcap exploits of a group of pals desperate to find their next fix. The idea of a literary “event,” seems almost quaint today, but the 1993 publication of Trainspotting—really a series of short, interconnected stories—was a seminal moment that connected to the kind of readers not typically courted by the publishing industry. The fact that is was just voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the last 50 years illustrates how lasting its impact has been even if the novel’s principle concern—Scotland’s chronic drug culture and the epidemic of AIDS it spawned—is less resonant than it once was.
Welsh did not rest on his laurels—seven novels and four collections of short stories have followed, including Filth, a picaresque tale of a misanthropic, coke-snorting psychopathic Scottish detective. Despite being described by Welsh as “unfilmable,” a movie version has just been released in the U.K. to raves, particularly for James McAvoy’s performance in the central role, and it will be a lasting shame if it doesn’t find the audience it deserves. And as Trainspotting drew power from the propulsive techno of Underworld’s seminal track, “Born Slippy,” so Filth is elevated by the sepulchral beauty of composer Clint Mansell’s score.
Best-known for his long working relationship with Darren Aronofsky, Mansell grew up in the U.K. at a time when the attitude and spirit of punk was rousing a generation of frustrated teens. For Welsh, the call-to-arms was The Sex Pistols; for Mansell it was The Ramones. Both men would channel that spirit into their work. As lead singer and guitarist for Brit rock band, Pop Will Eat Itself (aka The Poppies), Mansell enjoyed modest success, cracking the U.K.’s top ten with the 1993 single, “Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies,” and later befriending Trent Reznor (Mansell plays backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile).
The break up of The Poppies in 1996 might have been the end of Mansell’s career in music but for a random encounter with Aronofsy who was looking for a composer for his debut movie, Pi. The two bonded over their mutual despair at the state of filmmaking in general, and film-composing in particular. Requiem for a Dream—arguably Mansell’s best-known score—followed, and the commissions have come thick and fast ever since. “I’m not very analytical really; everything I do is based on gut feelings,” Mansell told BlackBook earlier this year. “My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world.”
BlackBook invited Welsh and Mansell to chat about the art of story telling, the power of punk, and what it means to help articulate a cultural moment.
(See PART II of their conversation HERE)