Beating the Traffic

IN MAY OF last year, just after the release of his debut feature, Human Traffic, 26-year-old writer-director Justin Kerrigan got a letter from Windsor Castle. "My girlfriend was like, 'What the fuck. You're never going to get invited again.' So I borrowed a suit and went down there. Anyway, I'm fucking getting plastered, thinking, 'What the fuck am I doing here?' Then the queen shows up with her posse. And she's like, 'Who are you and what do you do?'"

Kerrigan, who had recently taken the opportunity to split a spliff with an Irish photographer in one of the castle's bathrooms, mumbled something about Human Traffic, a trip through Clubland with a segment of Britain's happily narcotized "E Generation." The queen, who was apparently not impressed, nodded. "Place looks great," Kerrigan said. "Do you rent it for parties?" With that, the audience was over. Kerrigan woke up the next day in a flat he had never seen before.

As he wraps up the story, the young director is shaking with laughter. He lights an American Spirit--his third in ten minutes--and lowers his head in a show of mock humility. "Somehow, I don't think they'll be having me back."

Having a scream: Writer-director Justin Kerrigan on the set of Human Traffic
Having a scream: Writer-director Justin Kerrigan on the set of Human Traffic

Although slightly fuzzy from a night of dancing at First Avenue and some Minnesota homegrown--both of which he heartily endorses, by the way--Kerrigan is eager to talk about Human Traffic, an ode to the rave scene in his native Cardiff, Wales. "The great thing about rave culture is that different races, straight and gay, are all coming together. Whatever the paranoia and stress we have during the week, when the weekend comes, we're going to say 'Fuck it' and have a scream."

Such laissez-faire abandon certainly informs Kerrigan's style, which shifts easily between the narration of Jip (John Simm), a middle-class club kid with an ego-deflating case of "Mr. Floppy," and extended fantasy sequences, including one particularly funny scene wherein a staid BBC reporter infiltrates a rave to expound on "the homies getting off their pickles on whack beats." If Human Traffic is mostly a paean to fun, however, making the film was, according to Kerrigan, anything but. The extras, ravers bussed in for the evening, had to be paid in cigarettes and beer. One bit player, a drug impresario who has recently become a cause célèbre in Britain, was almost too stoned to deliver his lines. "We were in the deep end," Kerrigan recalls. "I went in to the doctor to get some dust allergy tablets, and they sent me straight to a psychiatrist. As soon as we got distribution, I was out of there, though."

A little work-induced psychosis was, according to Kerrigan, a small price for his labor of love--which he views, above all, as a corrective to disingenuously puritanical tales about the dangers of drug use. "There's this general hysteria in the press relating to X. Nobody will touch it with a barge pole if there's no moral. But that's not what clubbing's about. [The film] would have been a sellout if I tried to build to a climax where someone dies from an overdose."

Given Kerrigan's disposition, it's hardly surprising that Human Traffic bears less resemblance to the seminal Nineties drug 'n' clubs trip Trainspotting--or nihilistic American cousins like Larry Clark's Kids--than to the dizzy beach movies of the Sixties. Drugging and casual sex here replace beach blanket bingo as the game of choice, but the attitude toward dissipation is much the same. This gestalt is summed up nicely by one of the film's young clubbers: "Take me to a world where the drugs are free, the clubs have no gravity, and every shag guarantees an orgasm." Suffice it to say that Human Traffic delivers. (Peter Ritter)

 

Human Traffic screens Wednesday and Thursday at the Uptown Theatre, and starts Friday at Lagoon Cinema.

 
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