ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS [1986 / 2016] [30th Anniversary Edition] [Blu-ray] [UK Release]
See David Bowie in a Whole New genre!
Set against a backdrop of emerging teen culture and rising racial tension in late 1950’s London, Colin MacInnes' cult novel is brought to the screen in Julien Temple's lavish musical adaptation.
Struggling young photographer Colin [Eddie O'Connell] sees his ambitious, fame-seeking girlfriend Crepe Suzette [Patsy Kensit] slipping away as she ruthlessly pursues a career in fashion. To win her back he'll need to compromise his idealism and do whatever it takes to make the big time himself.
FILM FACT: The film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ is based on the novel “Absolute Begiiners” by Colin MacInnes. Christopher Wicking worked on an early draft of the script which he said, “Had some sort of propulsion from one scene to the next.” Christopher Wicking says the script helped raise American finance but then Julien Temple became involved and disregarded a lot of Christopher Wicking's ideas. Christopher Wicking also says the filmmakers could never reconcile if the musical numbers should advance the story or illustrate something about the characters at the time. $2.5 million of the film's budget came from Orion and £2.5 million from Goldcrest Films. David Bowie's theme song was very popular in the UK, spending nine weeks in the charts and peaking at number two. The commercial failure of ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ and two other films are blamed for the collapse of the British film studio Goldcrest Films. Whilst the critical reviews in the UK were fairly disappointing, the box office performed respectably well whilst the reverse was true in America, where good notices by critics were not matched by a number of ticket sales. Julien Temple would note in 2016 that he had to leave the UK in order to find work elsewhere and two noted fans of the film were Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, leading him to directing Janet Jackson's promo clips for “When I Think of You” and “Alright” which emulate some of the visual style ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS.’ Other musicians like David Bowie, Billy Idol, Whitney Houston and Blur (amongst others) would keep Julien Temple's career in music video directing ongoing.
Cast: Patsy Kensit, Eddie O'Connell, David Bowie, James Fox, Ray Davies, Mandy Rice-Davies, Eve Ferret, Tony Hippolyte, Graham Fletcher-Cook, Joseph McKenna, Steven Berkoff, Sade Adu, Edward Tudor-Pole, Bruce Payne, Alan Freeman, Anita Morris, Paul Rhys, Julian Firth, Chris Pitt, Lionel Blair, Gary Beadle, Robbie Coltrane, Jess Conrad, Smiley Culture, Ronald Fraser, Slim Gaillard, Irene Handl, Peter-Hugo Daly, Amanda Jane Powell, Johnny Shannon, Sylvia Syms, Ekow Abban, Robert Austin, Gerry Alexander, Jim Dunk, Johnny Edge, Carmen Ejogo, Paul Fairminer, Hugo First, Pat Hartley, Astley Harvey, Colin Jeavons, Alfred Maron, G.B. Zoot Money, Sandie Shaw, Bruno Tonioli, Roland Alexander (Dancer), Shaun Alexander (Dancer), Ayo Antaeus (Dancer), John Aron (Dancer), Hoyle Baker (Dancer), Chris Baldock (Dancer), Andrée Bernard (Dancer), Warren Bird (Dancer), Richard Bodkin (Dancer), Timothy Brennan (Dancer), Mo Bright (Dancer), Roland Brine (Dancer), Kelvin Carter (Dancer), Imogen Claire (Dancer), Clive Clarke (Dancer), Kirsty Davide (Dancer), Vince Debono (Dancer), Dennis Elcock (Dancer), Sylvia Ellis (Dancer), King Masher Fontaine (Dancer), Wayne Fowkes (Dancer), David Foreman (Dancer), Lucille Gaye (Dancer), Elliot Gilbert (Dancer), John Gordon (Dancer), Lorna Gray (Dancer), John Greaves (Dancer), Robert Grimsey (Dancer), Robert Grose (Dancer), Michael Ho (Dancer), Isobel Hurll (Dancer), Johnny Hutch (Dancer), Kim St. James (Dancer), Peter Jessup (Dancer), Clive Johnson (Dancer), Chua Kaa-Joo (Dancer), Val Joeph (Dancer), Trevor Kelly (Dancer), Tony Kemp (Dancer), Chrissie Kendall (Dancer), Olivia Komlosy (Dancer), Viv Law (Dancer), Madeleine Lawrence (Dancer), Paul Leonard (Dancer), Kenny Linden (Dancer), Tom Lock (Dancer), Tricia Lockhart (Dancer), Jerry Manley (Dancer), Peyton Martin (Dancer), Robin Martyne (Dancer), Jack Migdalek (Dancer), Bob Newent (Dancer), Albin Pahernik (Dancer), Neil Patterson (Dancer), William Perrie (Dancer), Shanti Ruchpaul (Dancer), Corinne Russell (Dancer), Les Saxon (Dancer), Gary Sellars (Dancer), Alan Spencer (Dancer), Chris Sullivan (Dancer), Paul Telford (Dancer), Michelle Thorne (Dancer), Christina Thornton (Dancer), Carl Trevors (Dancer), Oke Wambu (Dancer), Anthony Wellington (Dancer), Elizabeth Wendon (Dancer), John Willet (Dancer), Sabra Williams (Dancer), Barrie J. Wilkinson (Dancer), Glen Wilkinson (Dancer), Barrie Young (Dancer), David Morgan Young (Dancer), Alan Austen (uncredited), Roy Beck (uncredited), Ray Gange (uncredited), Lynne Hazelden (uncredited), Deborah Leng (uncredited), Derek Lyons (uncredited), Peter Ross-Murray (uncredited), Tina Simmons (uncredited) and Eric Sykes (uncredited)
Director: Julien Temple
Producers: Al Clark, Chris Brown, David Wimbury, Nik Powell, Robert Devereux and Stephen Woolley
Screenplay: Colin MacInnes (based on the novel), Michael Hamlyn (developed for the screen), Christopher Wicking (screenplay), Don MacPherson (screenplay), Richard Burridge (screenplay) and Terry Johnson (additional dialogue)
Composer: Gil Evans
Costume Consultant: Roger Burton
Wardrobe Supervisor: Joyce Stoneman
Assistant Costume Designer: Barbara Rutter
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton, B.S.C. (Director of Photography)
Image Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English: 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio
English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Audio
Running Time: 107 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Goldcrest Films / Virgin Films / Palace Pictures / Second Sight
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’  finds us in the time and place of 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 is really rough, and Crepe Suzette [Patsy Kensit] is his girlfriend and also the accidental model. Well, she was never just going to remain a costume upholster.
Everyone is on equalled terms whether male, female and regardless of their skin tone and sexual orientation and how a Friday night feels like where 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 in the United Kingdom but was re-rated as a 12-certificate eventually and there were 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.
But 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the film, so it’s a timely release for that, plus the sad fact that David Bowie passed away in January that year, two days after the release of his last album “Blackstar.”
At first, when I went to see the film I thought this film might just be a loose and vague story on which to hang a series of – what are 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 is very rough, and Crepe Suzette [Patsy Kensit] is his girlfriend and also the accidental model. Well, she was never just going to remain a costume upholster.
Everyone is on equalled terms whether male, female and regardless of their skin tone and sexual orientation. That is how a Friday night feels and 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.
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 British eccentric comedy legend Irene Handl.
We see Colin regularly takes pictures of everyone on a night out for posterity, since he’s stepping an advance on everyone who takes selfies now. I also agree with Colin’s comment: “If this is adult life, I think I’ll stay an absolute beginner forever.” But I spotted a continuity error at 76 minutes when a piano is seen on fire with Flikker [Bruce Payne] standing in front of it and seen from a shot from a rooftop, then it cuts to ground level where the piano isn’t yet alight and he walks into shot, then subsequent shots are with it on fire again.
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 off her selfish side.
Sadly, there’s also a few who have passed away – the aforementioned Irene Handl, plus the Disc Jockey Alan Freeman as Call-Me-Cobber, and two who died long before their time, singer-songwriter Smiley Culture, and dancer Anita Morris, who passed away aged 50.
One joyous aspect of the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ was seeing the wonderful Alan “Fluff” Freeman [Australian/British DJ], who is very sadly missed, as I use to be a really great friend with this lovely man and I use to go up to BBC Broadcasting House every other Sunday evening at around 5:00pm to be in the studio with Alan “Fluff” Freeman and watch his radio show “Pick Of The Pops” with other keen people who loved this original Australian man and love to him say, "Greetings, music lovers!" when introducing his classical and rock shows; “All right? Right, stay bright!” when signing off, and “Not 'arf!” frequently uttered during his shows and I really miss this wonderful guy and again I became a very good friend to him and we will never see the likes of this wonderful person ever again.
In addition, I read that there should have been a post-credits scene, but it’s not Second Sight’s fault that it’s not here. It no longer seems to exist, where we are supposed to hear the following: It’s directly after the closing credits. You hear Eddie O'Connell talking and the screen blazes into yellow, then orange, then blue, then black. It’s quite stunning if you see it on a big screen in a theatre. However, it seems that sadly it no longer exists with this print now. It just goes from the credits to black then Eddie O'Connell talking. I mean it’s not a HUGE part of the film but it sets you up for what’s to follow with all the bright primary colours. But despite this slight error, I still feel that ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ you will find this film a surprising treat, especially for modern audience today and a brilliant celluloid time capsule.
While the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ may not have found an audience in 1986 it has gained a small cult following that will undoubtedly continue to grow over time. The vibrant set pieces, snappy dialogue and enthusiastic cast make it easy to forgive the film’s shortcomings. And Julien Temple’s lively direction and penchant for lush long shots distract from the film’s inability to develop an emotional core that would have given the racial conflict it artfully frames more impact. But it’s hard not to admire the movie’s broad ambition and if ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ was released today it’s easy to imagine Julien Temple’s contemporary musical receiving the same kind of critical praise and attention that’s been heaped on Baz Luhrmann’s work.
ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS MUSIC TRACK LIST
SANTA LUCIA (Composed by Ekow Abban) [Performed by Ekow Abban]
LANDLORDS AND TENANTS (Composed by Laurel Aitken) [Performed by Laurel Aitken]
ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (Composed by David Bowie) [Performed David Bowie]
THAT’S MOTIVATION (Composed by David Bowie) [Performed David Bowie] [Brass arrangement by Gil Evans]
VOLARE (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu) (Composed by Domenico Modugno and Franco Migliacci) (English lyrics by Mitchell Parish) (uncredited) [Performed David Bowie]
RIOT CITY (Composed by Jerry Dammers) [Performed by Jerry Dammers] [Brass arrangement by Gil Evans]
QUIET LIFE (Composed by Ray Davies) [Performed by Ray Davies]
HAVING IT ALL (Composed by Patsy Kensit and Gordon Beauchamp) [Performed by Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit]
SELLING OUT (Composed by Tot Taylor, Julien Temple and Slim Gaillard) [Performed by Slim Gaillard]
ROCKING AT THE 21's (Composed by Willie Harris) [Performed by Wee Willie Harris]
BONGO ROCK (Composed by Preston Epps and Arthur Egnoian) [Performed by The Jet Streams]
LITTLE CAT (You've never had it so good) (Composed by Nick Lowe) (Additional arrangements by David Bedford) [Performed by Jonas Hurst]
NAPOLI (Composed by Clive Langer and Julien Temple) [Performed by Clive Langer, The Perils of Plastic, Tom Morley and Garry Barnicle]
HEY LITTLE SCHOOLGIRL (Composed by Paul Winley) (uncredited) [Performed by The Paragons]
ROCK BABY ROCK (Composed by Bertice Reading) [Performed by Bertice Reading]
KILLER BLOW (Composed by Sade, Simon Emmerson and Larry Stabbins) [Performed by Sade] [Brass arrangements by Gil Evans]
SCORPIO (Composed by Edward Barber) [Performed by The Scorpions]
SO WHAT (Lyric Version) (Composed by Miles Davis) (Lyrics by Smiley Culture) [Performed by Smiley Culture] [Brass arrangement by Gil Evans]
HAVE YOU EVER HAD IT BLUE (Composed by Paul Weller) [Performed by The Style Council] [Brass arrangements by Gil Evans] [Additional arrangements by David Bedford]
TED AIN’T DED (Composed by Edward Tudor-Pole and Julien Temple) [Performed by Edward Tudor-Pole]
RODRIGO BAY (Composed by Simon Emmerson, Larry Stabbins and Juliet Roberts) [Performed by Working Week]
BOOGIE STOP SHUFFLE (The Rough and the Smooth) (Composed 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 Charles Mingus) (Arranged by Gil Evans and Colin Purbrook)
SWITCHING IT OFF (Composed by Elvis Costello)
VA VA VOOM (Composed, arranged and conducted by Gil Evans)
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (Composed by Jack Hammer and Otis 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, Sam Lewis and Joe Young)
ROCK A BY BABY (Original arrangement by Clive Langer and Steve Allen)
SLEEPY LAGOON (Composed by Eric Coates)
TEDDY BEARS PICNIC (Composed by John W. Bratton and Jimmy Kennedy) [Performed by Bruce Payne] (uncredited)
* * * * *
Blu-ray Image Quality – Goldcrest Films, Virgin Films, Palace Pictures and Second Sight presents us the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ with a wonderful 1080p image and is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition. The print looks stunning, bringing out the beautiful sets with no grain with the print. The camera movement, the scene changes, the hypnotic (almost psychedelic) fades, and the simply dazzling use of colour and the multi-colour scheme has been restored meticulously. The picture image retains the inherent grain structure, and the dazzling red and blue neon lights of the city look very accurate, and the contrast looks good with the more downtrodden setting of the “White City” projects. At this level of resolution, it’s easier to notice the artificial environment of the studio-bound sets and production design. The picture image quality was really good enough that I could clearly see the wires pulling David Bowie on top of a giant prop during his musical number. The blacks and golden outfits worn by Patsy Kensit are immediately eye-pleasing, though it’s hard to tell whether it’s because of the person modelling them. So well done Second Sight for bringing out this very eccentric British musical film which I personally loved when I saw it in the cinema, but sadly the critics gave it a big thumbs down, still that criticism is entirely up to you decided whether you agree with the critic or not. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Goldcrest Films, Virgin Films, Palace Pictures and Second Sight brings us the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ with 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio. The audio track offers sterling fidelity and excellent clarity, though prioritization is occasionally a minor and transitory and slight problems with the surround mix, where for example, lines of dialogue during musical moments can get just slightly buried at times. The 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio mix opens up the soundstage rather significantly during the musical numbers, less so during dialogue scenes. There are no signs of damage like dropouts or distortion. The 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio mix sounds really bring the dance numbers to the fore and make the soundtrack really sparkle, especially with the rear speakers being used superbly well for some of the lyrics and the instruments. So definitely gets a superb five star rating.
* * * * *
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature: Absolute Ambition  [1080p] [2.39:1 / 1.78:1] [53:22] With this featurette, it is the best place to start for an in-depth look at the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ as Julien Temple, Nik Powell, Stephen Wooley and a number of others take us through the history of their company Palace Pictures, who of course was involved with the lighting and designing the sets, plus the difficulties with making this film, including thinking the studios were going to pay all the bills, but you should never make an assumption. In addition, Tim Roth was considered before Eddie O’Connell, yet wasn’t thought to be good looking enough. It’s fascinating how the film turned out given how little control Julien Temple and Stephen Woolley had over the finished product. This informative documentary tells the full story of ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ from conception through to legacy and greatly enhances the experience of watching the film for what may otherwise be rather baffled viewers. Context is crucial in understanding ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ especially from a series of talking heads. While many of the more famous cast members are absent, those present are very engaging and very informative. One bit of interesting information is that there is a scene where David Bowie has to tap dance in unison with Eddie O’Connell and David Bowie said he cannot tap dance, so went away for a few days and as you see in the film David Bowie is tap dancing perfectly with Eddie O’Connell in unison. What was totally amazing is that most of the film sets were constructed for the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ was filmed in Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire and some of the other London setting buildings were built in another location and everyone was very upset when these other built building were demolished, but while filming they felt everything looked totally amazing and gave the film a much more stylized look towards the film. Another interesting information we are informed is that the film was filmed on a budget of £6,000,000, but despite this, they still had to cut corners, but because of the stressful situation, a lot so tension flared up between certain people. But on the bonus side, they had a brilliant premiere of the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS,’ but the English press and the reviews by the film critics said the film was “Garbage,” whereas in America was the total opposite and they hailed the film as “A Rock Musical With Brains,” and the directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were fully supportive of the film, and Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson were also very supportive of the film. Throughout this featurette, we get to view lots of clips from the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS.’
Contributors: Julien Temple [Director], Oliver Stapleton [Director of Photography], Stephen Wooley [Producer], Nik Powell [Executive Producer], Edward Tudor-Pole [Ed The Ted], Eddie O’Connell [Colin] and John Beard [Production Designer]
Director: David Gregory
Producers: Carl Daft and Chris Holden
Cinematography: William Sansom (Director of Photography)
Finally, ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ marks the 30th anniversary, so it’s a timely release for that, plus the sad fact that David Bowie passed away in January 2016, two days after the release of his last album, “Blackstar.” When I saw the film ‘ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS’ in the cinema, 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 were 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 Blu-ray release, I heard the theme tune played on the radio recently and, like a lot of David Bowie’s amazing catalogue of work David Bowie has never stopped reinventing himself, and it shows what an incredible talented person David Bowie was, thus his legacy will now live on for countless generations. Highly Recommended!
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