Screen Ravers

Movies Play Catch-up With the Clubbing-and-Drugging Scene

Groove largely avoids depicting the actual consumption of drugs, but it deals with their effects much more deftly. Ecstasy virgin David's ascent through trepidation, the panic rush as the E comes on strong, to flushed and woozy rapture, is nicely captured. Groove's ethical center, its low-key message, emerges when David stumbles into the company of Leyla, a jaded veteran raver who finds herself moved by his born-again bliss. Leyla achieves a painful breakthrough herself, realizing how she has used parties and drugs to avoid going anywhere with her life. "I wanted to convey the more subtle dangers of this scene, not the real but rare risk of overdose," says Harrison. "You can get lost behind this screen of chemical happiness and become unwilling to deal with the bad in your life. The very epiphany that's opened David's life is the thing that's trapping Leyla."

Rave isn't just about Ecstasy, it's about the synergy between drugs and music. Even the most addled participants in dance culture are incredibly picky about what soundtracks their frenzy. But Human Traffic transmits little sense of the urgent distinctions and dissensions that animate your genuine club-culture fiends—which DJs are cool, which tracks rule, where the vibe is to be found scene-wise. Groove gestures at this pure passion for music, showing the dedication of the DJs and the fans obsessed with John Digweed.

The Digweed thing—a Wayne's World if-you-book-them-they-will-come fantasy, given that this superclub DJ would never deign to play an illegal party—is one of a handful of unrealistic notes in Groove. (Free water? DJs who smile while spinning? C'mon!) But the slightly idealized version of rave is forgivable, since the film is about the culture in its most romanticized underground form (the break-in warehouse party). Groove also documents the early-honeymoon phase of the S.F. scene, says Harrison, before polydrug abuse darkened the vibe. Groove is about rave as counterculture, as DIY autonomist activity, about outwitting the law with pluck and planning. Human Traffic is about something more modest and ultimately conformist—young people letting off steam at the weekend, like they've always done. "Every generation goes through the same things—McJobs, sexual insecurities, not sure what you're going to do in life, thinking, 'Fuck it, I'm gonna live in the present rather than work for a tomorrow that's never going to come,' " says Kerrigan. When he wrote the script, there was a huge media panic about Ecstasy in Britain, but by the time Human Traffic got its U.K. release last year, there'd been a turnabout. "We got no negative commentary at all, because the media's beginning to realize that Ecstasy is not a threat to society." Indeed, the movie can't make up its mind whether all the drugging is just harmless fun, or whether it's edgy, subversive, naughty. This vacillation mirrors the fact that British rave has become a leisure industry, with only the illegality of the party potions providing a vestigial veneer of rebellion.

Shaun Parkes and John Simm lose the plot in Human Traffic
photo: Hector Bermejo
Shaun Parkes and John Simm lose the plot in Human Traffic

Ultimately, Human Traffic is just a lively post-Trainspotting youth movie with club scenes as backdrop. There's even an anxiety-of-influence nod to Trainspotting, when Nina and Lulu tell a documentary TV crew that they don't do E anymore, but "jack up on heroin and float about the club. . . . We saw Trainspotting and it just made us want to do it. . . . We seem to be so impressionable." This also works as a riposte to any possible accusations that Human Traffic makes drug culture glamorous and seductive. Actually, it's more likely that the movie's five friends—an irritatingly feisty and manic bunch—will turn kids off big time. More subdued, and more true to life, Groove conveys the joy, devotion, and weird energy this culture has magicked into being in its 12 years of existence. It might even make you wonder what you've been missing.

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