‘I‘m amazed about the extent of the hype, the fever ofit now is quite extraordinary, and I think it must say something about the desire for something more exciting than the Gandhi’s and Chariots ofFire‘s of this world.‘ We sit in a second floor office in sunny Soho. Next door lurks a 50 pence peepshow. In the next street resounds the clashing of Hare Krishna cymbals. Inside the rather splendid grey tweed suit opposite me sits the youngish man from whose lips these words have come. He is called Julien Temple. and he has made what will doubtless be this year’s most talked about film. By now. you do not need me to tell you that it is titled Absolute Beginners. Based on a 1959 novel by Colin Maclnnes and set during the long hot
. summer of the year before, Absolute
Beginners is a musical for the promo video era of the 80‘s. Filmed almost entirely in a lavishly stylized studio recreation of late 50‘s Soho, it fills the Cinemascope expanses of the screen with the neon-lit swirl of the hot jazz scene, a world of Italian-tailored hepcats. sharp-dressed chicklets and bebop adrenalin all night long. These are the times when ‘teenager‘ meant too much money and not enought time to spend it.
Enter our hero. Colin (newcomer Eddie O'Connell), an aspiring photographer certifiably in love with aspiring model Crepe Suzette (the ubiquitous Patsy Kensit). As plot convention would have it, she is about to marry fashion designer Henley (an icy James Fox) merely for his money. and Colin is understandably distressed. Thus. slimy advertising executive Vendice Partners (David Bowie replete with hilarious mid-Atlantic accent) can easily entice him to set aside his principles and turn his talents with a camera to the service of the Hard-Sell. As Colin rises to become a famous photographer. he hopes to impress Suzette and win her back, but his new success alienates him from his old group of pals. As the racial tensions which have been simmering all through the summer’s heat are brought to the boil by a fascist fanatic organising violent Teddy Boys, he rescues Suzette from her disastrous and loveless marriage and returns to his former neighbourhood to stand by his black friends as rioting breaks out.
The powerful scenes of race riots at the climax of the film are certainly not what we’re used to seeing in a musical, but then Absolute Beginners is an eye-catching collage ofa movie, daringly juxtaposing colourful exuberance with more seriously intended social and political observations. Love story rubs shoulders with a satire on the teenage marketing industry, featuring Alan Freeman (l) and Lionel Blair (l!) as unscrupulous entrepreneurs; Ray Davies shines as Colin’s conservative Dad, representative of the older generation’s stagnated values; and the anti-racist theme is threaded
throughout. Add music by Bowie, Davies, Sade. and The Style Council amongst others, inventive choreography in the dance/fight sequences, and you have a film with itchy feet. as bursting with energy as the Gil Evans-arranged Mingus and Miles Davis that propels the soundtrack.
Director Julien Temple marshals the thronging visual and thematic tableaux with some assurance, opening with a dizzin exciting tracking shot around the Soho dreamscape that is quite breath-taking. A product of the National Film School, he found his 16mm film of the touring Sex Pistols eventually turning into The Great Rock 'n’RollSwindle, dubbed ‘the Citizen Kane ofrock movies‘ by Variety. Since then he has spent much ofthe last five years in the field of pop videos, working with many of the world's major recording artists including The Rolling Stones on the banned Undercover and David Bowie‘slazzin' For Blue Jean.
The music’s the thing
Temple‘s weary look testified to several months oftalking to journalists about his film, but his enthusiasm remains intact. ‘I read the book and it just jumped out at me, capturing the excitement ofthe London I knew as a kid, and it seemed to be a great vehicle to talk about the whole period. I thought it would be interesting to use it a springboard to look back at the 50‘s from the perspective of the 80’s and the whole teenage period in-between. I liked the fact that music is very central. I felt for a long time that to make a popular British film, not just here but abroad too, our best ally is the music, because that‘s what‘s fascinated the rest of the world about Britain. And it‘s something that’s gonna appeal to kids all around Britain much more than a subject like Gandhi, which they’re not really interested in at all.
‘It was difficult to get the money because people thought that musicals were like Hello Dolly, we were crazy because kids would just laugh at people singing on the screen. But I don’t think so actually. MTV and pop videos, whether you like it or not, have created an audience for stories being told by song and people dancing. Absolute Beginners is trying to tell the story and the ideas through the music; the music is a really integral part ofit, it’s not just Virgin’s favourite acts lumped on a soundtrack. We did try to get the songs written almost as part of the script, and ifthey weren’t right we went back and did them 'again. Two or three of the songs, if you took them out you wouldn’t have a story.’ Indeed, Suzette tells Colin she is going off with Henley in Eighth Wonder‘s Having ItAll;Co|m gets depressed to the strains of The Style Council’s Have You Ever Had It Blue; Vendice Partners aka Bowie lures him into his grasp in the standout production number That’s Motivation; and so on. The viewer has no time to even think about being bored. And yet,
Above, Patsy Kensit a
Newcomer Eddie O’Connell above, and opposite with Patsy Kensit. ’
.. l‘ .1 ' .‘_‘ a -_ N ‘1 . i; l . L:-
eddlno blues; below. Sade.
The List 4 — 17 April 3