I’ve been spending more time in the cinema in recent weeks than at any point in at least the last year recently and, if my social feeds are anything to go by, you have been too. The big screen seems happy to indulge our desire to escape from a real world rapidly spiralling into madness; promising us immersive technicolour fantasies complete with song and dance numbers (La La Land), or the opportunity to relive our fucked up youths when we were convinced things couldn’t get much worse (T2: Trainspotting).
I grant you that, on first glance, these seem like the two most bizarre films for me to link together, but that’s the thing: I left both of them feeling heartsick, emotional, in very similar ways. Sure, half the world is billing La La Land as this feel-good musical love story, but those of us who stayed until the end know that’s really not the case at all. Then there’s T2 which, for all the laughs and that warm, satisfying glow that comes from seeing something you loved in your teens revisited in a way that stayed true to the soul and the spirit of the original, ended on a note that was far more nuanced than the happy ending some might have interpreted it as.
This theme, which for the lack of a neater term I will describe as where nostalgia meets reality, consequences and the road not chosen, hasn’t been limited to the movies I have seen this year. I’ve heard it in the music I’ve been listening to too: in Japandroids’ world-weary follow-up to the party that was Celebration Rock; in Ryan Adams’ ‘divorce’ album, Prisoner – and, perhaps most strikingly of all, in The Menzingers’ introspective, backwards-looking fifth album, After the Party. The Philly punks hail from the opposite side of the world – but “Bad Catholics” could have been written for the scene in which we cut to Renton, wistful, spying on Diane and her equally successful partner from the other side of the street (Diane who, incidentally, cannot possibly be working in criminal law with an office that fancy).
then I saw you in the beer tent
hanging with your new husband and your baby on the way
it’s kind of strange how it made me miss something
long lost in the both of us now
Nostalgia is a strange and a compelling drug. I wrote a little, at the start of this year, about how I lost my way creatively last year and about how my goal for 2017 is to discover that again. I think, as you hit your mid-30s and begin to collect responsibilities the way you once collected concert tickets, you become more aware that your time is finite. The idea that I could be absolutely anything I wanted to be is no longer an option for me and, curiously, it makes figuring out the person I actually am seem all the more urgent.
I wonder if my contemporaries in control of the culture (and those a little ahead of me: I was 14 when the original Trainspotting came out, so don’t really get away with claiming it as any kind of formative work) are wrestling with the same sort of questions. It certainly seems to feel that way.
like tension you can cut with a knife
like a wedding ring that never fit right
like a car alarm that won’t stop howling
a decade lost in the motions to romance and cheap whiskey
the subtle sound of a fleeting feeling
Against that melancholy backdrop, the music documentary Lost in France – which I saw earlier this week as part of a special screening and accompanying performance at the Glasgow Film Festival – comes almost as light relief. In one sense, the film is unashamedly backward-looking: the whole premise involves reuniting the same group of Glaswegian musicians who performed at a tiny festival in the north of France in the late 1990s. But it can’t escape that, as recently as last year, its protagonists released vital, beautiful music – music that would never have existed were it not for the formative experiences of their youth.
The title card that opened the documentary – a quote by the German writer WG Sebald – had me scrabbling for my notes app before the house lights had even dimmed. We all have appointments with the past – but what we do next? Well, that’s up for grabs.