FILM

Young Adam score catches the desperate feeling of the 50s Scotland

An adaptation of Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi's loosely autobiographical novel, Young Adam takes place on the canals around 1950s Glasgow, in the time of post-war desperation and low wages.

A young drifter Joe (Ewan McGregor) helps out on the barge of a married couple Les (Peter Mullan) and Ella (Tilda Swinton). It is clear that Joe has been having an affair with Ella for some time, though she is only the latest of his many conquests.

The relatively quiet life on the barge is disrupted by Joe and Les pulling a corpse of a young woman out of the river which prompts a series of flashbacks into Joe’s past as a womanizer filled with directionless pursuits and misogynistic energy.

The source novel, originally published as a “dirty book” in 1954, was re-edited by Trocchi so that it could be issued by a “reputable” publisher at a time when the use of graphic sex scenes and pornographic tropes in literary novels had yet to become a popular postmodern device. But Director David Mackenzie doesn’t shy away from the explicit scenes, masterfully avoiding gratuitousness by making them an integral part of the narrative and Joe’s depraved character.

The film’s tangible period atmosphere—grimy and brooding and cramped—is supported by the disjointed non-linear structure of the narrative, strong performances and subdued score.

The soundtrack, written by Talking Heads founder David Byrne, was released under the title Lead Us Not into Temptation. All songs were written by Byrne with the exception of Haitian Fight Song by Charles Mingus.

Due to its mathematics, Inexorable undoubtedly invokes Byrne's early works with Talking Heads, yet the track was arranged with an absolutely classical approach.

A simple piano solo refines the growing avalanche of strings that lead to a massive structure in the track's second half. As tension builds, distorted and eerie vocals become more apparent in their disguise as cello pads:

The Great Western Road is a solemn and spacious ballad that instantly warrants attention, from the crisp opening chord to the last. Since the song is written in triple meter, it gets a vibrant waltz treatment in the chorus that gradually dissolves into a dance by the closing sequence with the piano taking over:

The lyrics assume the film’s depressing hopelessness, as tangible as the dirt and damp in the air. From the opening shots, David Byrne’s mournful music is a low-key yet palpable presence that pierces through the cold blue world of Young Adam, carrying the desperate landscape of the times.

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