ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS: Twilight Time’s Little Touch Of Bowie

by Ryan Lewellen

Absolute Beginners was released on Blu-Ray by Twilight Time on a limited run of 3,000 copies 6/9/15

In 1958 London, young Colin roams the night streets, camera fully loaded, snapping images of the most colorful people he can find. His love, Crepe Suzette (Patsy Kensit) possesses the kind of beauty any photographer would dream of holding close, but she is fickle when it comes to Colin. She is only interested in cementing her career in fashion, while Colin is content without money, and isn’t interested in success. It comes, none-the-less, to both of them, and they are hurled in opposite directions of celebrity. All the while, a shocking white supremacist movement is steadily growing in London, and those night streets Colin so loved to shoot may become unrecognizable, mutated by cancerous hatred.

When Absolute Beginners was released 1986, it somehow had the future of the entire British film industry weighing on its energetic, but disliked, shoulders. The country’s cinema was in crisis, and Julien Temple’s coming of age tale just wasn’t up to the task of rescue. It was hoped this would be a hit, revitalize the fledgling industry, and so it received obsessive media coverage before its release. Its inevitable flop didn’t kill British filmmaking, but it did take out its studio (Goldcrest) before fading into obscurity.

Obscurity serves a rollicking musical like this well. Going in blind makes for a rather exciting, if also baffling, experience. It covers a truly remarkable era of cultural renaissance in London. It makes postwar London look and feel like a kind of cultural funhouse; a wonderland of alcohol and art. Art was big, but the public’s love of Jazz was slowly being seduced by youthful Johnny-come-latleys playing catchy rock and roll songs. That might be considered a tragedy, but it’s practically cute in comparison with the advent of a neo-Nazi uprising. The clash depicted in Julien Temple’s lively film is often as electrifying as it is intriguing, but we can’t exactly add “authentic” to its list of positive descriptors.

Like most films in the 80s, it suffers from the viral encroachment of the decade’s popular culture. So much of the music, intended as classic rock n’ roll, or the hippest jazz, sounds undeniably like it was freshly composed in the filmmakers’ present day. Some of the fashion doesn’t do the film any favors in accuracy, either, but there is nothing more anachronistic than the sound of squeaky-clean synth clamor scoring images from the late 50s. David Bowie’s welcome presence wasn’t exactly a boon to the issue, but at least he’s David Bowie! He has a small but entertaining role, but his musical contributions to the film stick out like a Burqa at a Trump rally. The film is a weird mixed bag of lasting moods, some good music, and a monumental setting.

That setting, in a film about a photographer, just happens to be excellently photographed by Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette). The neon lights of the city streets, the quality compositions, and the outrageous fashions are only a small reason why, if you see it at all, you must see it in HD. Thank to Twilight Time, you now have your chance.


Booklet Insert Featuring Write Up From Julie Kirgo: A solid read, as always.

Isolated Score Option

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