Sunday, 14 August 2016

Absolute Beginners by Denni Rusking

Julian Temple’s musical drama Absolute Beginners was very loosely based on Colin MacInnes’ novel from the 1950s. The tale concerns a struggling young photographer called Colin and a beautiful and ambitious fashion designer called Crepe Suzette.  Steven Berkoff appears as a fanatic not unlike Sir Oswald Moseley and David Bowie makes an appearance as a slick advertising executive. Colin’s parents are played by Ray Davies and Mandy Rice-Davies. There are also lovely cameos from the brilliant James Fox (as "Henley of Mayfair") plus Alan “Fluff” Freeman and Lionel Blair
  In the film we see Colin and Suzette drift apart, while watching the country drift towards social upheaval. Looking back on his movie several decades later Temple told us: “We were trying to hold up a mirror to 1958 and another to 1985, and bounce ideas between the two... We were very naive and made a lot of mistakes” Over the years some critics have been harsh and called said that Absolute Beginners was an “Absolute Turkey” that killed the British film industry. According to Wikipedia the film cost over 8 million to make and made back less than 2 million which led to the collapse of Goldcrest, (a major British film studio).
The best thing about Absolute Beginners is David Bowie’s title track which reached number 2 in the charts (it was denied getting to number one because of Chain Reaction by Diana Ross). And the second best thing about the film is the song Quiet Life sung by Ray Davies. When Patsy Kensit attempts to pay homage to Bardot in God Created Woman, or when ageing Teddy boys try a West Side Story style fight/dance routine or when Smiley Culture raps over a Miles Davies track it so nearly works but depressingly always just misses the bull’s eye. Mr Temple gets away with it just because the music is so good and the cameos are so good. In 2012 Temple made a brilliant documentary about London ("The Modern Babylon") which would feature very well edited short clips from Absolute Beginners. I guess all the right ingredients to make an absolute masterpiece were always there. This film is a mess but it's an interesting mess.

The new re-release on DVD and blue ray which tie in with the 
film's 30th anniversary feature brand new restoration and a documentary featuring interviews with Julian Temple and some of the cast. 

Text by Denni Rusking (2016)

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