• Absolute Beginners

    Released by: Twilight time
    Released on: June 2015.
    Director: Julien Temple
    Cast: Steven Berkoff, James Fox, Patsy Kensit, Eddie O'Connell, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Anita Morris, Edward Tudorpole
    Year: 1986
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    From the man who brought you The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (not to mention some great music shorts like The U.K. Subs’ Punk Can Take It and Samson’s Biceps Of Steel!) comes 1986’s Absolute Beginners. Set in the London of the late 1950s, the film follows Colin (Eddie O'Connell) and Suzette (Patsy Kensit), two young lovers who are hip to the swinging scene that their city offers up in abundance.

    Colin works as a photographer. Suzette works as a model/designer. Needless to say, they’ve got it going on but all of this idyllic bliss looks to be coming down when she catches the eye of Henley of Mayfair (James Fox) – a dressmaker for the very Queen of England herself! Henley whisks her away to a world she’d never dreamed off and their quick marriage leaves poor Colin sad and alone. Distraught by all of this Colin soon finds some comfort with the music that surrounds his life. As he tries to make it to the big time, with some help from Vendice Partners (David Bowie), racial tensions flare up in his neighborhood when a dastardly white supremacist named Flikker (Bruce Payne) starts gathering up a group of no good punks to get rid of anyone they deem unfit to live where they live. Will Colin win back Suzette’s heart? Will he get trounced by racist jerks? Will Ed The Ted (Edward Tudorpole) ever stop dancing? God I hope not, but sadly he will. Thankfully you can easily rewind that scene with your remote to enjoy it time and time again, and now in sparkling high definition!

    Absolute Beginners is about as goofy as musicals come, and let’s face it, they can get pretty goofy. That said, this is a fun watch. The film was made at a time when other musical films and stage plays were taking themselves very seriously indeed and if you see Temple’s adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel as a sort of antidote to all of that, even when it doesn’t work, somehow it works.

    Eddie O’connell is quite likeable as the well-meaning Colin. He does well enough here that we want him to win the day and get the girl even if all the while we completely understand why the apple of his eye might want to run off with the fancier, high culture option that presents itself to her in the form of Henley. James Fox plays that part well. He’s got a certain sort of snootiness to him that works in the context of who he is and it works. Patsy Kensit is as cute as a button here and similarly we can see why Colin would fall for her as hard as he does. What they go through and subject one another to is all predictable and melodramatic and really ripe with ridiculous clichés but when they sing and they dance and they zip about in ridiculous outfits across even more ridiculously decorated sets, it doesn’t matter. This is fun.

    If that weren’t enough, well, David Bowie shows up here. He’s as cool as they come and he dances on a giant typewriter, which is weird and probably meant to be more symbolic than most will think it is. The real scene stealer though? Eddie Tudorpole, probably best known for his scene stealing ‘Who Killed Bambi’ from the aforementioned Swindle. His musical number, Ted Ain’t Dead, is the best part of the movie and seeing him all pomped up with crazy teeth (crazier than usual, that is) jumping about like a complete lunatic is the highpoint of the movie.

    So yeah, the film’s message gets lost, its characters are fairly one dimensional and predictable and if you think about the movie too much it doesn’t make much sense. There are plot holes aplenty and misfires in abundance but just let it go. Don’t overthink it. Turn off your brain and enjoy the colors, the wild choreography and set design and the bizarrely eclectic soundtrack. It’s not hard to see how this flopped on first release but it’s also not hard to see why it’s still got a cult following. Warts and all, Absolute Beginners is… fun.


    Absolute Beginners looks good, if never quite reference quality, on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, is clean and colorful and sports strong detail in most scenes. There is some occasional softness that was probably source related and a few minor blemishes here and there but the majority of the movie features nice detail and texture. Skin tones look good and the picture is free of compression artifacts and obvious edge enhancement. Grain looks nice and natural here, never clumpy or DNR’s away, and the end result is a good, film-like representation of the movie.

    Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 2.0 (the film’s original stereo) and 5.1 flavors with optional closed captioning presented in English only. The 5.1 track does, as you’d expect, spread the musical numbers around quite nicely and as such it’s the more enveloping choice, while the 2.0 stereo track presents the original option. Both tracks are clean and clear and nicely balanced without any hiss or distortion related issues.

    Extras on the disc are limited to the film’s isolated score (presented in DTS-HD 2.0) and an MGM 90th Anniversary trailer. Sadly, there’s not Eddie Tudorpole commentary or interview and that’s a damn shame. Menus and chapter selection are included and inside the keepcase we get a six page color insert booklet with some stills and artwork from the movie along with an essay from Julie Kirgo that accurately sums up the film’s charms as well as some of its flaws.

    The Final Word:

    Absolute Beginners isn’t really a very good movie when you get right down to it, but it is a whole lot of goofy fun. The music is what makes this one worth seeing – and the dance choreography compliments it nicely – so just let the fact that the story isn’t much to write home about slide and enjoy this campy, silly musical for what it is. Twilight Time’s disc is light on extras but it looks and sounds quite nice, making this is solid upgrade for fans of the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!