Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, his electrifying 1996 adaptation of the cult novel by Irvine Welsh, is a heady tour through Edinburgh’s scuzzy 1980s underground, where Renton, an aimless young man, bounces from heroin highs to desperate lows as he tries, fails, and tries again to get his life on track. Starring Ewan McGregor in his breakout role and set to an iconic soundtrack that jumps from Iggy Pop and Brian Eno to Pulp and Primal Scream, Trainspotting is a rush of audacious, hyperinventive filmmaking. Released by the Criterion Collection only as a laserdisc, the film is now streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck alongside our edition’s audio commentary, recorded in London in 1996 and featuring Boyle, McGregor, producer Andrew Macdonald, and screenwriter John Hodge.
Also up this week:
A delirious mix of thriller, comedy, and tragedy, François Truffaut’s second feature, Shoot the Piano Player, finds the director at his most exuberantly playful. Following the adventures of the titular mild-mannered musician (Charles Aznavour) as he stumbles into the criminal underworld and a whirlwind love affair, this French New Wave classic is loaded with gags and guns, making for an indelible homage to American genre cinema. In the latest episode of Observations on Film Art, a Channel-exclusive series that gives viewers a monthly ten-minute dose of film school, Professor Jeff Smith examines Truffaut’s distinctive use of anamorphic widescreen lenses and what his compositional motifs reveal about his approach to storytelling.
In this unnerving pair of films, dark forces take over insular spaces. Swedish filmmaker Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s 2014 stop-motion short centers on a gang of animals that invade a bathhouse run by a pedantic zebra, whose protestations they ignore and mock. Von Bahr considers Austrian director Michael Haneke one of her greatest influences, so we’ve paired her film with his nightmarish 1997 home-invasion tale Funny Games, which follows two violent young men who take a family hostage in their vacation home and force them into performing sadistic acts on each other.
Before Psycho, Peeping Tom, and Repulsion, there was Diabolique. This thriller from Henri-Georges Clouzot, which shocked audiences in Europe and the U.S., is the story of two women-the fragile wife and the willful mistress of the sadistic headmaster of a boys’ boarding school-who hatch a daring revenge plot. With its unprecedented narrative twists and terrifying images, Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror filmmaking, featuring outstanding performances by Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, and Paul Meurisse. Supplemental features: selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway, an introduction by Serge Bromberg, an interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman, and more.
Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ken Russell conjure radically divergent visions of seventeenth-century mass hysteria in these tales of witchcraft, paranoia, and persecution. Made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943) is a transcendent parable of totalitarian oppression exquisitely filmed with the director’s signature austerity. On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, mad genius Ken Russell goes over-the-top bonkers in The Devils (1971), a delirious saga of demonic possession and sexual frenzy in a French convent that was censored around the world for its graphic, sacrilegious imagery. Despite their contrasting aesthetics, both films are searing statements on power and its abuse.