When Trainspotting erupted onto screens in 1996 it felt like British culture had been decimated in one breakneck monologue and a new artistic identity had been born. One that laughed in the face of a stiff upper lip, and had penchant for anarchy.
This wasn’t a newly discovered form of post-modern expression. The dark underbelly of Edinburgh’s drug scene may have been given a worldwide platform by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, but it was given a voice by Irvine Welsh. In Choose Irvine Welsh the writer is mythologised and then humanised in a sweetly sentimental documentary about culture, creativity, and chaos.
Director Ian Jefferies tries to build a picture of the renowned Scottish writer, using talking head interviews and archival footage to show how deeply loved Welsh is. At times it borders on a living eulogy with friends, collaborators, and heroes alike singing Welsh’s praises. In this way, Choose Irvine Welsh decides early on to befriend its subject, not investigate.
This may not chime with every audience member, especially those who prefer a no-stone-left, tell-all type of filmmaking. But Jefferies’ style of conversation, not interrogation, does have a certain charm.
Edited in a way that matches Welsh’s unique speaking rhythm, we jump around in topic and setting. It feels like a bit of a whirlwind but so does Welsh’s creative landscape. The novelist’s own life lends itself to this disorientating narrative. From standing up David Bowie for eckies in a Leith pub quiz with his friends Paul Reekie and Liverpool Sean, to outrageously debauch club nights in Ibiza, Welsh often competes with his own characters for the most insane antics.
“When Trainspotting erupted onto screens in 1996 it felt like British culture had been decimated in one breakneck monologue and a new artistic identity had been born.”
Jefferies doesn’t just focus on Welsh’s crazy personal life either. He positions the writer among the top contributors of Scottish literature, giving him the literary authority not usually reserved for working-class writers. Really, Welsh should be seen as a spiritual successor to James Kelman and Tom Leonard, who took back a functional literary voice for Scotland, sentence by sentence. Welsh’s approach to language positions his people in places of authority, turning away from received pronunciation and embracing the tactile tongue of his peers.
If you haven’t had any exposure to Welsh, or the cultural heavy weight that is Trainspotting you may find yourself lost within the documentary’s many references and name drops. But Jefferies never leaves an audience member behind. Rather than making you feel like you’ve interrupted a private conversation, Choose Irvine Welsh uses its conversational style to invite you in.
This dewy-eyed documentary will either leave you more confused about Irvine Welsh than before or make you want to go to the nearest bookshop to find out what all the fuss is about.
Featured image credit: Central Scotland Documentary Festival.