Saturday, May 28, 2016

Absolute Beginners

David Bowie as the advertising executive Vendice Partners, Patsy Kensit as the model Crêpe Suzette, and Eddie O'Connell as Colin Young, an alter ego of Colin MacInnes, the author of the novel on which the musical is based.
Absolute Beginners / Absolute Beginners. GB © 1986 Goldcrest Films, Virgin Films. Original distributor in UK: Palace Pictures, in the US: Orion Pictures. P: Stephen Woolley, Chris Brown. D: Julien Temple. Based on the novel by Colin MacInnes (1959, in Finnish: Alkusoittoa, translated by Antti Nylén / Desura, 1999) – developed for the screen by Michael Hamlyn. SC: Richard Burridge, Christopher Wicking, Don MacPherson – add. dial. by Terry Johnson . DP: Oliver Stapleton - negative: 35 mm - process: Super Techniscope - Rankcolor with b&w sequences - 2,35:1 - also released in 70 mm blow-up. PD: John Beard. AD: Stuart Rose, Ken Wheatley. SFX: Mark Meddings. VFX: David Smith. Cost: Sue Blane, David Perry. Makeup: Peter Frampton. Hair: Elaine Bowerbank. S: David Grimsdale, Derek Holding, Eddy Joseph, Howard Lanning. ED: Michael Bradsell, Gerry Hambling, Richard Bedford, Russell Lloyd. Casting: Leonara Davis, Susie Figgis, Mary Selway.
    M: Gil Evans. M: "Hancock's Half Hour", "Here Comes the Bride", "Rock a Bye Baby", "Sleepy Lagoon", "Teddy Bears' Picnic". M songs: "Santa Lucia", "Landlords and Tenants", "Absolute Beginners", "That’s Motivation", "Volare", "Riot City", "Quiet Life", "Having It All", "Selling Out", "Rocking at the 21's" "Bongo Rock", "Little Cat", "Napoli", "Hey Little Schoolgirl", "Rock Baby Rock", "Killer Blow", "Scorpio", "So What", "Have You Ever Had It Blue", "Ted Ain't Dead", "Rodrigo Bay", "Boogie Stop Shuffle", "Better Git It In Your Soul", "The Naked and The Dead", "Va Va Voom", "Switching It Off", "Great Balls of Fire", "My Mammy".
    C: Patsy Kensit (Crêpe Suzette), Eddie O'Connell (Colin Young), David Bowie (Vendice Partners), James Fox (Henley of Mayfair), Ray Davies (Arthur), Mandy Rice-Davies (Mum), Eve Ferret (Big Jill), Tony Hippolyte (Mr. Cool), Graham Fletcher-Cook (Wizard), Joseph McKenna (Fabulous Hoplite), Steven Berkoff (The Fanatic), Sade (Athene Duncannon), Tenpole Tudor / Edward Tudor-Pole (Ed the Ted), Bruce Payne (Flikker), Alan Freeman (Call-Me-Cobber), Anita Morris (Dido Lament), Paul Rhys (Dean Swift), Julian Firth (The Misery Kid), Chris Pitt (Baby Boom), Lionel Blair (Harry Charms), Gary Beadle (Johnny Wonder), Robbie Coltrane (Mario), Jess Conrad (Cappuccino Man), Ronald Fraser (Amberley Drove), Irene Handl (Mrs. Larkin), Peter-Hugo Daly (Vern), Amanda Jane Powell (Dorita), Johnny Shannon (Saltzman), Sylvia Syms (Cynthia Eve), Robert Austin (Slim Brother), Johnny Edge (Trader Horn), Carmen Ejogo (Carmen), Paul Fairminer (Eddie Sex), Jim Dunk (Slim Brother), Sandie Shaw (Baby Boom's Mum).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.5.1986 Gloria with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c. – telecast: 29.8.1990 YV3, 16.8.1997 YLE TV2, 28.3.2003 Subtv – vhs: Alfa-Panorama Film / Video, Karelia Food, Videofirma Makuuni – VET 93771 – K14 – 2940 m /  108 min
    A vintage KAVI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (David Bowie 1947-2016), 28 May 2016

Julien Temple started his film career with Sex Pistols, also directing their music video for "God Save The Queen". His feature film debut was The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, one of the most unforgettable rock films ever made, recording the incredible, volcanic energy of Sex Pistols, and also the fraud involved in it all, seen from the viewpoint of Malcolm McLaren, alienating the Pistols.

Temple was a pioneer of the burgeoning music video phenomenon, trusted by David Bowie, The Kinks, and Sade among others (Temple directed the "Smooth Operator" video for Sade). Out of this creativity grew also the feature film adaptation of Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes's novel about the birth of youth culture in Britain.

One of the most expensive British films, Absolute Beginners became a magnificent musical in Temple's hands. It flopped awfully. Although I admired The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle as a masterpiece, thought highly of Temple as a music video director, and read a lot of coverage about Absolute Beginners, I did not go to see it and saw it now for the first time.

The film musical as a genre of creative brilliance died with the Hollywood studio system during the five or so years after Funny Face. Much that is good has been made since, but the assured creative panache never returned. The atmosphere, the professional teams, and the infrastructure for the film musical vanished for good. After the rock revolution of the 1950s great pop films have appeared in many forms but the show business musical genre is not the most propitious of them. In fact, the musical is an ideal form for the preceding popular music culture against which the rock generation rebelled.

Absolute Beginners is a well made film, it features top talent, and the production values are high, but there is a lack of an irresistible dynamic surge in the structure as a whole. Patsy Kensit and Eddie O'Connell are very attractive in the leading roles, but the roles are underwritten, and we never have a sense of a compelling feeling for the characters they play.

Having said that there is much to like. Absolutely Beginners is firmly grounded in its historical moment, the year 1958. Britain has struggled first with the war and then with the post-war reconstruction. Colin is called by his parents "a blitz baby". Life has been hard and grey. Finally it is time for colour to break out. The ultra-saturated colour world of Absolute Beginners is an expression of that urge, that turn.

The new youth culture is open to people of all colours and sexual orientations, but there is an escalating reactionary opposition. Violent street gangs and neo-fascist task forces attack liberals and people of colour. There are street fights, houses are burnt, people of colour are brutally harassed. Our protagonists unite for freedom, against oppression.

Julien Temple invents new kinds of production numbers for his musical. The soundtrack is rich with musical idioms relevant to the period, from Italian pop ("Volare") to skiffle, jazz ("So What" from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue) and early ska.

The "Quiet Life" production number by Ray Davies can be compared with the satirical music video "Predictable" that Temple had directed for The Kinks. It is overflowing with ideas; both share a set that resembles The Ladies' Man by Jerry Lewis. Also in The Rolling Stones's "Neighbours" video, not directed by Temple, a similar set was used. Ray Davies plays Colin's father; his mother is played by Mandy Rice-Davies, no relation to Ray Davies but notorious from the Profumo scandal and an actual Soho veteran of the era depicted.

"That's Motivation", David Bowie's production number, can be compared with Frank Tashlin (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) in its satire of the 1950s advertizing world.

Tenpoint Tudor's "Ted Ain't Dead" number is a wild and menacing showcase of the Teddy Boy phenomenon.

The most beautiful number is Sade's "Killer Blow" at the Chez Nobody jazz club where Colin is getting drunk and smoking a joint after a humiliating experience at a television show where the host completely misrepresents everything. Afterwards the stoned Colin has a dangerous accident at his scooter.

The powerful music arrangement is by the great jazz musician Gil Evans who had worked with Miles Davis since the 1940s. There is a general feeling of engrossing crescendo towards the final numbers during the end credits (the second appearance of David Bowie's theme song and "Va Va Voom"), a sense of an exhilarating energy that forces of reaction cannot contain.

There is a lot going on in Absolute Beginners, too much, in fact. There are attractions in every shot but no sense of a natural rhythm or breathing. Everything is on the surface, and there is no feeling of psychological depth.

The print is complete, and the saturation of the warm colour feels right.


Colin MacInnesin romaani Absolute Beginners (Alkusoittoa) on ollut englantilaisille vastaava 1950-luvun kulttikirja kuin Sieppari ruispellossa amerikkalaisille. Sen tapahtumat sijouttuvat vuoden 1958 "pitkään kuumaan kesään", jolloin englantilaisnuoret ja kaupallinen teinikulttuuri tekevät läpimurtoaan, samalla kun suvaitsemattomuuden ja vastareaktion merkit nostavat päätään Notting Hillin rotumellakoiden muodossa. "Herra Jumala", ajattelee teini-ikäinen minäkertoja eräässä vaiheessa, "on varmaa, että kerran tehdään musikaaleja hohdokkaasta 1950-luvusta."

Juuri tämä idea toteutuu Julien Templen elokuvassa, niin löyhät kuin sen yhteydet muuten ovatkin alkuteokseen. Absolute Beginners on Musikaali isolla kirjaimella, sangen kunniallinen yritys elvyttää perinteistä, jo pitkään kuolemaa tehnyttä musikaalia nykyaikaisten rock-elokuvien ja videoitten aineksilla. Julien Temple on lahjakkuus, joka on ansainnut kannuksensa juuri rock-videoilla (mm. David Bowien Blue Jean ja Rolling Stonesin Undercover) ja Sex Pistolsin kanssa syntyneellä esikoiselokuvallaan The Great Rock'n' Roll Swindle (1980).

Kuten yleensä musikaaleissa Absolute Beginnersin juoni on yksinkertainen tarina rakkaudesta ja menestyksestä. Se on vain eräänlainen kiintopiste, miltei veruke muille kehittelyille ja jää jalkoihin, kun tanssi- ja musiikkinumerot, lukuisat verevät sivuhenkilöt ja lontoolaisympäristöt vyöryvät kuvaan. Absolute Beginners on epäilemättä parhaimmillaan Gil Evansin sovittamissa musiikkinume-roissa, vaikka musiikki ja tarina usein iskevätkin yhteen epäsuhtaisesti (lopun mellakkajaksoissa musikaalin tyylittely ja ajankohtainen todellisuus kohtaavat vaikeasti). Kokonaisuus on vaarassa kääntyä ulkokohtaiseksi tekniseksi taidonnäytteeksi, samalla kun elokuva osoittaa liiallista taipumusta kuvalliseen leikittelyyn optisia silmänkääntötemppuja myöten. Joka tapauksessa ainakin Ray Davies, David Bowie, Tenpole Tudor ja Sade onnistuvat loistamaan esityksillään.

– Sakari Toiviainen (1986) ja muiden lähteiden mukaan


Santa Lucia
Performed and Composed by Ekow Abban

Landlords and Tenants
Performed and composed by Laurel Aitken

Absolute Beginners
Performed and Composed by David Bowie

That's Motivation
Performed and Composed by David Bowie

(Nel Blu Dipinto DI Blu)
Performed by David Bowie
Composed by Domenico Modugno and Franco Migliacci
English lyrics by Mitchell Parish (uncredited)

Riot City
Written by Jerry Dammers
Performed and composed by Jerry Dammers

Quiet Life
Performed and composed by Ray Davies

Having It All
Performed by Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit
Composed by Patsy Kensit (as P. Kensit) / Gordon Beauchamp

Selling Out
Performed by Slim Gaillard
Written by Tot Taylor, Julien Temple and Slim Gaillard

"Rocking at the 21s'
Performed by Willie Harris (as Wee Willie Harris)
Composed by Willie Harris (as William Harris)

Bongo Rock
Performed by The Jet Streams
Composed by Preston Epps and Arthur Egnoian

Little Cat (You Never Had It So Good)
Performed by Jonas Hurst
Written by Nick Lowe

Performed by Clive Langer, The Perils of Plastic, Tom Morley and Garry Barnicle
Written by Clive Langer and Julien Temple

Hey Little Schoolgirl
Performed by The Paragons
Composed by Paul WInley (incorrectly attributed to R Palmer)

Rock Baby Rock
Performed and composed by Bertice Reading

Killer Blow
Written by Sade (as Adu), Simon Emmerson (as Booth) and Larry Stabbins (as Stabbins)
Performed by Sade

Performed by The Scorpions
Composed by Edward Barber

So What (Lyric Version)
Performed by Smiley Culture
Composed by Miles Davis
Lyrics by Smiley Culture

Have You Ever Had It Blue?
Performed by Style Council (as The Style Council)
Written by Paul Weller

Ted Ain't Dead
Performed by Tenpole Tudor
Written by Edward Tudor-Pole (as Edward Tudorpole) and Julien Temple
Performed by Tenpole Tudor

Rodrigo Bay
Performed by Working Week
Written by Booth/Stabbins/Roberts

Boogie Stop Shuffle (The Rough and the Smooth)
Written by Charles Mingus
Arranged and conducted by Gil Evans

Better Git It in Your Soul (The Hot and the Cool)
Composed by Charles Mingus
Arranged and conducted by Gil Evans

The Naked and the Dead
Composed by Gil Evans

Switching it Off
Composed by Elvis Costello (as MacManus)

Va Va Voom
Composed, Arranged and Conducted by Gil Evans

Great Balls of Fire
Composed by Jack Hammer (as Hammer) and Otis Blackwell (as Blackwell)
Performed by Bruce Payne (uncredited)

"Hancock's Half Hour (A Sunday afternoon at home)
From the BBC Radio Series
Composed by Angela Morley

Here Comes the Bride
Original arrangement by Luis Jardim

My Mammy
Composed by Walter Donaldson (as W Donaldson), Sam Lewis (as S Lewis) and Joe Young (as J Young)

Rock A Bye Baby
Original arrangement by Clive Langer and Steve Allen

Sleepy Lagoon
Composed by Eric Coates

Teddy Bears Picnic
Composed by John W. Bratton (as J Bruton) and Jimmy Kennedy (as J Kennedy)
Performed by Bruce Payne (uncredited)


Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released     7 April 1986
Genre     Jazz, acid jazz, downtempo, pop, rock
Label     Virgin Records
Producer     Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley
Singles from Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

    "Absolute Beginners"
    Released: March 1986

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.

Track listing

    "Absolute Beginners" — David Bowie - 8:03
    "Killer Blow" — Sade - 4:37
    "Have You Ever Had It Blue?" — The Style Council - 5:37
    "Quiet Life" — Ray Davies - 2:56
    "Va Va Voom" — Gil Evans - 3:26
    "That's Motivation" — David Bowie - 4:14
    "Having It All" — Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit - 3:08
    "Rodrigo Bay" — Working Week - 3:32
    "Selling Out" — Slim Gaillard - 3:36
    "Riot City" — Jerry Dammers - 8:29
    "Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)" — Gil Evans - 3:00
    "Ted Ain't Ded" — Tenpole Tudor - 2:35
    "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)" — David Bowie - 3:13
    "Napoli" — Clive Langer - 4:08
    "Little Cat (You've Never Had It So Good)" — Jonas - 2:19
    "Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)" — Gil Evans - 1:49
    "So What? (Lyric Version)" — Smiley Culture - 4:18
    "Absolute Beginners (Refrain)" — Gil Evans - 1:41

A double length cassette (Virgin TCVD 2514) was also released that featured four more tracks: B6 and B8-B10.

Track listing:

Side A

    "Absolute Beginners", David Bowie (Bowie)
    "Killer Blow", Sade (Sade Adu, Simon Booth, Larry Stabbins)
    "Have You Ever Had It Blue?", The Style Council (Paul Weller, arranged by David Bedford)
    "Quiet Life", Ray Davies (Davies)
    "Va Va Voom", Gil Evans (Evans)
    "That's Motivation", David Bowie (Bowie)
    "Having It All", Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit (Geoff Beauchamp, Alex Godson, Kensit)
    "Rodrigo Bay", Working Week (Booth, Stabbins)
    "Selling Out", Slim Gaillard (Gaillard, Tot Taylor, Julien Temple)
    "Riot City", Jerry Dammers (Dammers)

Side B

    "Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)", Gil Evans (Charles Mingus)
    "Ted Ain't Ded", Tenpole Tudor (Temple, Edward Tudor-Pole)
    "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)", David Bowie (Franco Migliacci, Domenico Modugno)
    "Napoli", Clive Langer (Langer, Temple)
    "Little Cat (You've Never Had It So Good)", Jonas (24) (Nick Lowe)
    "Absolute Beginners (Slight Refrain)", Gil Evans (Bowie)
    "Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)", Gil Evans (Mingus)
    "Landlords And Tenants", Laurel Aitken (Aitken)
    "Santa Lucia", Ekow Abban (Abban)
    "Cool Napoli", Gil Evans (Langer, Temple)
    "So What? (Lyric Version)", Smiley Culture (Culture, Miles Davis)
    "Absolute Beginners (Refrain)", Gil Evans (Bowie)

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