Absolute Beginners is one of many Blu-ray premieres released, over the past few years, where I completely missed them first time round. This was largely because it wasn’t the sort of thing I was going to rush to the cinema to see (even at the age of 14 I could’ve passed for 15 – it certainly worked when I was 12!), and because when it came to VHS, it languished in godawful 4:3 pan-and-scan hell for an eternity.
There was a widescreen DVD release along the way in the early 21st Century, but that fell off my radar as I tried to catch up with the mountains of releases bucketing out onto the fledgling format. And I don’t really go for musicals, but there are gaps in my movie knowledge which must be filled and there’s always been something intriging about this one for me.
But 2016 marks the 30th anniversary, so it’s a timely release for that, plus the sad fact that David Bowie passed away in January this year, two days after the release of his last album, Blackstar.
At first, I thought this film might just be a loose and vague story on which to hang a series of – what were revealed to be – outstanding set pieces, as that would have been easy to do, but the story is tough and depicts a harsh and compromising time.
Prior to watching this, I heard the theme tune played again on the radio recently and, like a lot of his work as he never stopped reinventing himself, it shows what an incredible talent Bowie was and, thus, that his legacy will live on for countless generations.
The time and place is London, 1958. Britain is regaining its mojo for the first time since the Second World War ended, Colin (Eddie O’Connell) lives in a neighbourhood that’s rougher than Stockport, and Suzette (Patsy Kensit) is his girlfriend and also the accidental model. Well, she was never just going to remain a costume upholster. The record store’s even got a couple of 1950s era pinball machines, and I still saw one going great guns at Play Expo 2015.
Everyone is on equal terms whether male, female and regardless of their skin tone and sexual orentation. That’s how a Friday night feels out in Manchester – everyone’s just out for a good time and we can all get along great… well until, in both cases, a fight breaks out. However, in this film, things take a very sinister turn.
This film was originally a 15-certificate but was re-rated as a 12 in May this year. Don’t sorry, there’s no cuts, but while some of the racist language used may be less shocking today, it’s often spoken in an aggressive manner and, coupled with the occasional, sharp violence, I would’ve assumed it was still a 15 had I not discovered otherwise.
The racist scenes are very unsettling, especially when a black lady’s baby’s pram is shaken about and almost turned over, although at one point, the racists do get a verbal slap from the late, great Irene Handl.
With a blisteringly colourful, opening one-take scene and a number of incredible sets, one of my particular favourites being the house set, in the song written by and featuring Ray Davies, plus a glorious palette of colours, often a different colour projected onto different individuals, such as when Suzette is singing “Having It All” to Colin (and showing her selfish side), Absolute Beginners was a surprising treat.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the film.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.