You Have Been Watching…The Acid House

The new Irvine Welsh novel Skagboys is out soon, and according to a least two sources whom I trust it’s the best thing that he’s written for a long time. Not difficult I hear Welsh aficionado’s cry, and admittedly recent novels have been terrible, but there is something about the man that keeps me giving him second, third, fourth, etc, chances. There will be a review of Skagboys on these pages once I can get my hands on a copy, but its publication prompted me to go back to the film version of one of his best books The Acid House.
Controversial argument number 1) The Acid House film is a much more accurate representation of Welsh’s fiction than Danny Boyle and John Hodge’s adaptation of Trainspotting. This is because that film had to merge and delete characters and scenes, which is understandable, but it meant that the central characters are one dimensional and nowhere near as complex as they are in the book, although there is still plenty to admire. 1998’s The Acid House is simply a filmed version of  three short stories from the book of the same name and as such reflects Welsh at his best.
Controversial argument number 2) The reason this is a more appropriate adaptation is because Welsh, like many writers, is better at the short form of fiction than at writing cohesive novels. It’s not an original thing to say but the novel Trainspotting  is really a collection of short stories and brief scenarios about an interlinked group of characters. It is interesting to note that Skagboys apparently returns to this style and form. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact what is wrong is a writer who continues to produce novels which are filled with scenes that shock for little purpose instead of concentrating on structure, character, story…dull things like that. More of that line of thought will doubtless appear in that book’s review, but if you’ve ever read Welsh, or only Trainspotting, then the short story collection The Acid House is perhaps the best example of his success in that form, and the film equivalent reflects this.

The three sections of The Acid House vary in quality. ‘The Granton Star Cause’ is the opener and was a taste of things to come with Welsh, as the story and characters become secondary to some outrageous, if entertaining, scenes. Stephen McCole plays ‘Boab’ whose days goes from bad to worse, to outright mental when god, with Maurice Roeves perfectly cast in the role, decides to show him just how awful things could be. What follows is sex, drugs, botulism and perhaps the oddest case of filicide imaginable.

Best of the three is the tragic ‘A Soft Touch’ and that is mainly down to the central performances from Kevin KcKidd, Michelle Gomez and Gary McCormack. McKidd’s ‘Johnny’ and Gomez’s ‘Catriona’ are married with a baby when McCormack’s psychotic ‘Larry’ moves in upstairs. He starts to take everything from Johnny, including Catriona, and Johnny just takes it. It’s a heartbreaking story of how one decent man is bullied, abused and cuckolded. Bookended by two scenes of Johnny and Catriona sitting with nothing to say to each other in the pub, some people may say that this is taking a holiday in other people’s misery, but the story is about human interaction, and how individuals have the capacity to hurt and abuse, but also to love and forgive, often, in both cases, for questionable reasons.

Finally there is the surreal ‘The Acid House’ which has Ewan Bremner as ‘Coco Bryce’ who takes what’s been promised as super acid and finds that his mind is swapped with that of a newly born baby of a middle class couple, Martin Clunes and Jemma Redgrave, from the New Town of Edinburgh. It’s a neat concept but once you get over the novelty of this radge infant who looks forward to feeding time with an indecent enthusiasm, then you realise that this is a one trick tale, and that the best actor on show spends the majority of it drooling like an infant. There are better stories in the source material so it is a shame they plumped for this one, even though it is the title track so to speak.

Here’s the trailer followed by the Nick Cave/Barry Adamson collaboration The Sweetest Embrace which appears on the excellent soundtrack:

The Acid House is not a great film, but, mainly thanks to a great cast and the inclusion of ‘A Soft Touch’ it is one worth watching. It is also a reminder of just how important Channel Four’s production company Film4 has been in supporting British cinema for the last 30 years. They have backed some of the best films made in Britain including early classics My Beautiful Laundrette and Mona Lisa, productions from artists such as Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman through to big successes like Trainspotting, Brassed Off and Sexy Beast. And they’re still at it helping to produce last year’s Tyrannosaur (my film of the year),  Attack the Block and Kill List. If you can think of a favourite film produced in Britain in recent times there’s a good chance Film4 will have had a hand in its conception. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

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