Release date18 April 1986 (1986-04-18) WriterRichard Burridge, Michael Hamlyn (developer), Terry Johnson (additional dialogue), Colin MacInnes (novel), Don MacPherson, Christopher Wicking SongsAbsolute Beginners CastEddie O'Connell (Colin, Photographer / Narrator), Patsy Kensit (Suzette), David Bowie (Vendice Partners), James Fox (Henley of Mayfair, Dressmaker to the Queen), Ray Davies (Arthur, Colin's Dad), Mandy Rice-Davies (Flora) Similar moviesDiana, Cashback, Scandal, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Hanover Street, Behemoth, the Sea Monster
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Absolute Beginners is a 1986 British rock musical film adapted from Colin MacInnes' book of the same name about life in late 1950s London. The film was directed by Julien Temple, featured David Bowie and Sade, and Patsy Kensit in one of her first mainstream roles. The film was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.
Upon release, Absolute Beginners received immense coverage in the British media. At the time, the British film industry was perceived as being on the point of collapse (with the recent failure of the film Revolution). However, the film was panned by critics and became a box office bomb. Some of the criticisms included stylistic anachronisms, such as the mini-skirt and decidedly 1980s music from the likes of The Style Council and Sade, the bowdlerisation of Kensit's character (Crepe Suzette had been depicted as a promiscuous "negrophile" in the book), and the casting of Bowie, who made it a condition of his musical contribution. Although the film was not a success, Bowie's theme song was very popular in the UK and reached number two in the charts.
The commercial failure of Absolute Beginners and another film released about the same time, The Mission, led to the collapse of Goldcrest, a major British film studio.
Absolute beginners 1986
The film takes place in 1958, a time in which pop culture is transforming from 1950s jazz and early rock to a new generation on the verge of the 1960s. London is post-World War II, but pre-Beatles/Stones. The storyline incorporates elements of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.
Young photographer Colin falls in love with aspiring fashion designer Crepe Suzette but she's only interested in her career. Colin tries to win her affections by taking a crack at the big time himself. Meanwhile, racial tensions heat up in Colin's neighbourhood of London.
Patsy Kensit as Crepe Suzette
Eddie O'Connell as Colin (the narrator was unnamed in the original novel, so was given the author's first name for the film)
David Bowie as Vendice Partners
James Fox as Henley of Mayfair
Ray Davies as Arthur, Colin's Father
Mandy Rice-Davies as Mum
Eve Ferret as Big Jill
Tony Hippolyte as Mr. Cool
Graham Fletcher-Cook as The Wizard
Joe McKenna as Fabulous Hoplite
Steven Berkoff as The Fanatic
Sade Adu as Athene Duncannon
Edward Tudor-Pole as Ed the Ted: credited as Tenpole Tudor
Bruce Payne as Flikker
Alan Freeman as Call Me Cobber
Lionel Blair as Harry Charms
Paul Rhys as Dean Swift
Julian Firth as The Misery Kid
Chris Pitt as Baby Boom
Slim Gaillard as Party Singer
$2.5 million of the film's budget came from Orion and £2.5 million from Goldcrest.
Writing in The New York Times, film critic Caryn James was largely unmoved by the film and remarked upon the "uneveness" of Temple's adaptation, and its "erratic" results. Elsewhere Pauline Kael declared that, despite Temple's bona fides, the musical is "peculiarly unlyrical and ephemeral". Comparing it unfavorably to MacInnes' novel, she wrote: "The film has a glossy immediacy, and you can feel the flash and determination that went into it. What you don't feel is the tormented romanticism that made English adolescents in the '70s swear by the novel the way American kids had earlier sworn by The Catcher in the Rye. Jeremy Allen in The Guardian praised Bowie's theme song but described the film as "an overbudget turkey of huge proportions". Corey K. Creekmur stated in The International Film Musical that although the film "failed to deliver on the critical expectations surrounding it", it remained "a deeply interesting, if flawed, attempt to harness the contemporary musical in the services of politics and social equality".
Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was concurrently released to promote the film. Aside from the plethora of music from contributing artists, the musical score was composed by Gil Evans. David Bowie's title track, Ray Davies' "Quiet Life" and the Style Council's songs were released as singles. Tracks 11-18 were exclusive to the CD version.
"Absolute Beginners" — David Bowie - 8:03
"Killer Blow" — Sade - 4:37
"Have You Ever Had It Blue?" — The Style Council - 5:37