DVD review – Absolute Beginners (1986), Region 4, Umbrella Entertainment

Absolute BeginnersWhile filmmaker Julien Temple is best known today for his punk music documentaries The Filth and the Fury and Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, in 1986 he was known as the director of the expensive and critically maligned musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes’s much-loved novel Absolute Beginners. Co-starring David Bowie and Patsy Kensit with cameos by Sade and Steven Berkoff, Temple’s film maintains the novel’s late 1950s London West End setting with its themes about the emerging youth culture and racial tensions. The main story of a heartbroken freelance photographer trying to find his place in the world is paper-thin as the focus of the film is on the musical numbers.

While the plot is weak and some of the musical numbers do not work, Absolute Beginners contains a sensibility that it not that far removed from Baz Luhrmann’s films. Absolute Beginners is certainly flawed but it is bursting with an infectious energy that combines the visually excessive style of Hollywood 1940s and 50s musicals with a collection of songs consisting of a brilliantly anachronistic fusion of 1980s and 1950s pop. Absolute Beginners is a film worth revisiting for its inventiveness and audacity.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 352, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. Must revisit this – I was one of the few reviewers who liked it at the time. As you say, it has flaws but critics were too quick to dismiss its infectious energy. Did you realise its producer is Al Clark, better known these days as the prodigious Australian-based producer of Priscilla, exec-producer of Chopper, et al?

  2. Really? No, I had no idea! Thanks for that.

    Good on you for going against the tide when it first came out and acknowledging its merits. I actually enjoyed it slightly less watching this time around (I originally saw it on VHS about 10 years ago) but I still really enjoyed it. I often listen to the soundtrack, where the songs mostly work better on their own without the context of the film.

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