ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS. Orion Pictures, 1986. Patsy Kensit, Eddie O’Connell, David Bowie, James Fox, Ray Davies, Mandy Rice-Davies, Sade Adu. Based on the novel by Colin MacInnes. Original music: Gil Evans; cinematography by Oliver Stapleton. Director: Julien Temple.


   For me, this knockout of a movie musical was an absolute eye-opener. A veritable feast for the eyes and ears throughout, beginning with the opening narration by Colin (Eddie O’Connell):

    “I remember that hot, wonderful summer [of 1958]. When the teenage miracle reached full bloom and everyone in England stopped what they were doing to stare at what had happened. The Soho nights were cool in the heat, with light and music in the streets. And we couldn’t believe that this was really coming to us at last…”

   It is as if the war and the postwar recovery were over at last, and the world changed in a magical instant from black-and-white to vivid color. It is the summer of the teen-ager, brought to life and personified by Colin the photographer, and Suzette (Patsy Kensit) the model. Youth and young love and … money. Bright lights and glitter are always followed by trouble. No roads are ever easy, and there are always obstacles along the way.

   Success comes to Suzette first, and boy loses girl. Does that sum it up? Does boy win girl back? Don’t always be so sure.


   Beautifully photographed throughout, with the best of late 50s London pop and rock, as seen through the visual lens of 1986. If David Bowie and Ray Davies (of The Kinks) do not play your kind of music, as they do mine, this may not be the movie for you, but the flash and brilliant color may win you back.

   From the first sequence on, a melange of activity in a busy, thriving section of streets in a boisterous entertainment area in London, over two minutes long in one continuing shot filled with what looks like hundreds of musicians and dancers, I was caught up immediately. This is my kind of musical.

   Colin again:   “For the first time ever, kids were teenagers. They had loot, however come by and loot’s for spending. Where there’s loot, trouble follows.”

   Can you say “sell out”?


   And worse. The ending, incorporating as it does hints of class warfare (well, more than hints) and a well-choreographed racial riot that I’d have made several minutes shorter, but it is one of the four crucial parts of the book this film was based on, the events of which take place on four days in London — one a month — over an 18-year-old boy’s last summer as a teenager.

   Even so, some reviewers have said that this movie misses the whole point of the book, which I haven’t read, but I have a feeling they may be right, that any message the film may have intended is lost among the magnificent colors, vivid imagery, and above all, the music. An overload, in fact, but truthfully? I didn’t mind it for a second.