wed 23/05/2018

Blu-ray: Absolute Beginners | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Absolute Beginners

Blu-ray: Absolute Beginners

Julian Temple’s flawed Eighties bomb is finally revealed as film which can’t fail to dazzle

Aspiring photographer Colin (Eddie O'Connell) and the vapid Crepe Suzette (Patsy Kensit) in 'Absolute Beginners'

The home-cinema release of Absolute Beginners is a rarity, as it’s one where watching the bonus before the main feature is a must. In Absolute Ambition, those involved with the film are brutally frank about this most hyped piece. It’s also an eloquent, fascinating potted history of the pop-cultural milieu that led to it being made in the then still-resonating aftermath of punk. Despite being set in the 1958 of its source book, Colin MacInnes’S Absolute Beginners, director Julian Temple avers that the film was more about when it was made than when it was set.

That wasn’t clear on its release, but it’s more than obvious now. With the launch of the magazines The Face and i-D in 1980 and the arrival of the New Romantics, by the mid-Eighties British pop culture was more about style than content and raiding past ideas of cool than ever before. This is the filmic analogue of the period’s preoccupations.

Absolute Beginners David BowieBy then, Temple had completed the Sex Pistols’ film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (also released in 1980) and a raft of pop videos for everyone from Judas Priest to Gary Numan and The Rolling Stones to Dexys Midnight Runners. Crucially, he had directed promos for David Bowie, The Kinks and Sade, all of whom featured in Absolute Beginners (Ray Davies is in the film: amazingly, his “Quiet Life” segment was filmed before work on the film began as a means to secure funding and then later bolted in to the finished product). Seen now, the closest precursor to Absolute Beginners is Temple’s long-form ABC promo Mantrap, which he directed in 1983.

Plot wise, the film uses MacInnes’ Notting Hill and Soho backdrops but foregrounds the story of aspiring photographer Colin (Eddie O'Connell) and his wooing of the vapid Crepe Suzette (Patsy Kensit). Both leads are awful, wooden and show no evidence of either screen presence or an ability to act. As the evil Vendice Partners, David Bowie (pictured above right) exudes presence but plays it so bizarrely he seems more Ruritanian vampire than shady 1950s businessman. Absolute Beginners is about the whole. It is lurid, beautifully filmed, over-arch, has staggering production design, swoon-inducing sets, some OK dance routines and songs, thinks it’s both West Side Story and Expresso Bongo and can’t fail to dazzle.

As a bomb, its failure helped finish off production company Goldcrest. Temple, who was fired before the editing, says “I had to leave England if I was ever going to work again.” When he got to America, Michael Jackson invited him to his house for a screening at which he and sister Janet danced along with the film’s routines.

David Bowie exudes presence but plays it so bizarrely he seems more Ruritanian vampire than shady 1950’s businessman


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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