Absolute Beginners (1986)

This highly stylised musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel celebrates the rise teen culture in late 50s London with a mish-mash of pop fashions and political and racial overtones.

absolutebeginners23There are ample energetic song and dance numbers, at times reminiscent of West Side Story (1961). There are also violent confrontations, and all in all, it’s a dazzling retro-soaked colourful visual feast.

In 1958 London, Colin (Eddie O’Connell) – an aspiring young photographer – loses his girlfriend, Suzette (Patsy Kensit), to the head of a fashion house.

“Crepe” Suzette is an impulsive, ambitious young beauty who abandons him after attracting the attention of a powerful fashion designer, Henley of Mayfair (James Fox).

Meanwhile, Colin helps the flashy agent Harry Charms (Lionel Blair) build up lame novelty rock singer Baby Boom (Chris Pitt), a pubescent would-be teen idol.

absolutebeginners_001Through Harry, Colin is wooed to work for Vendice Partners (David Bowie, pictured at right), a super-connected pop and business whiz that claims to have the answer for everything and everybody.

Not only does Vendice want to stifle Colin’s creativity, he’s a partner in a real estate scheme to eject the black population of Notting Hill, to gentrify the place with a new expensive housing development.

Vendice Partners hires Teddy Boy thugs to intimidate the black residents.

Colin’s best friend, Jazz musician Mr Cool (Tony Hippolyte) has no choice but to get into the race riot

The film’s nostalgic yet gently satirical look at teen culture is tempered by a recognition of the era’s social tension, particularly a disturbing rise in racism.

The film’s historically accurate violent finish stages a clash between thugs and a new population of Commonwealth immigrants, from Africa, the West Indies and India, that had started to pour into Britain around 1955.

absolutebeginners_08Despite these serious undertones, however, the film tells its story with a colourful vibrancy reminiscent of both MTV and old Hollywood musicals, filled with such show-stopping numbers as a memorable sequence in which Bowie dances on a giant typewriter.

Critical reception was mixed, with some hailing the film’s spectacular cinematography and ambitious scope, while others found the mixture of tones and style too inconsistent.

The film also drew lukewarm response at the box office, with the memorable soundtrack receiving more attention than the film itself.

Watch out for terrific cameos from Sandie Shaw, Alan Freeman, Zoot Money, Steven Berkoff, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Mandy Rice-Davies, Eddie Tenpole and Sade.

VIDEO

Colin
Eddie O’Connell
Crepe Suzette

Patsy Kensit
Vendice Partners

David Bowie
Arthur

Ray Davies
Henley of Mayfair

James Fox
Big Jill

Eve Ferret
The Fanatic

Steven Berkoff
Dido Lament

Anita Morris
Harry Charms

Lionel Blair
Mum

Mandy Rice-Davies
Ed the Ted

Eddie Tenpole
Mr. Cool

Tony Hippolyte
Baby Boom

Chris Pitt
Dean Swift

Paul Rhys
The Misery Kid

Julian Firth
Amberly Drove

Ronald Fraser
Mrs. Larkin

Irene Handl
Cynthia Eve

Sylvia Syms
Vern

Peter-Hugo Daly
Mario

Robbie Coltrane
Trader Horn

Johnny Edge
Flicker

Bruce Payne
Ton-Up Vicar

Gerry Alexander
Chez Nobody Barman

Zoot Money
Athene Duncannon

Sade Adu
Baby Boom’s Mum

Sandie Shaw
Call-Me-Cobber

Alan Freeman
Johnny Wonder

Gary Beadle
Bert the Tailor

Alfred Maron
Eddie Sex

Paul Fairminer
Ms. Cool, Sr

Pat Hartley
Carmen

Carmen Ejogo
Mr. Cool, Sr

Astley Harvey

Director
Julien Temple