Film: Absolute Beginners

I remember that hot, wonderful summer. 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. Nobody knew exactly why. But after so many dreary years of bombs and blitz and slow rebuilding; no sugar, no jam, nothing sweet anywhere; with the whole English world dressed in gray, it seemed, forever. Suddenly life broke out in warm colors again, so young and beautiful that a lot of people couldn't stand to look at it. For the first time ever, kids were teenagers. They had loot, however come by, and loot's for spending. And where there's loot, trouble follows.
Opening narration

Absolute Beginners is a musical drama directed by music video director Julien Temple, and based on the cult novel by Colin MacInnes. Set in London during the late fifties, it chronicles the story of Colin (Eddie O'Connell), a struggling young mod photographer, and Suzette (Patsy Kensit), his fashion model girlfriend. Suzette loves Colin, but is more ambitious than he is, so she gets a job working for Henley (James Fox), a top designer, and through chance, ends up being the showcase of his latest campaign, which is cashing in on the new teen craze. Colin reluctantly ends up working for Harry Charms (Lionel Blair), a pop promoter, but is afraid of selling out. He also catches the eye of Vendice Partners (David Bowie), an unscrupulous businessman. Meanwhile, the neighborhood Colin lives in — Notting Hill — seems like a perfect combination of energy, music and cultural harmony. But there's trouble brewing as a group of white supremacists start causing trouble, especially when Colin finds out who's behind them...

While that may sound like an issue drama, the movie is in fact a musical, featuring not only Bowie, but also music by Ray Davies, Gil Evans, and Sade, among others. Despite heavy promotion by MTV, the movie was a flop on release, but has since gained somewhat of a cult following, despite criticism of how different it was from the novel.


This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: From what the viewer can tell, Vendice Partners is a genuinely pleasant, friendly guy, and his charisma is a big reason his Villain Recruitment Song temporarily proves effective. But that song is largely about how a life of glamour and dirty dealings tend to go hand in hand with each other, and he may well be the one who came up with the Evil Plan.
  • Anachronism Stew: Though most of the music featured in the film is from the period (except the Theme Tune by Bowie), or tries to sound like it could have come from the period (Sade's "Killer Blow", Ray Davies' "Quiet Life"), it is a little strange to hear Colin singing along to Style Council.
  • Award Bait Song: The title tune.
  • Billing Displacement: David Bowie gets third billing even though he gets less screentime than most of the other antagonists — mostly because he was by far the biggest name in the cast, especially for non-U.K. audiences.
  • The Cameo: Ray Davies (of The Kinks) and Mandy Rice-Davies (notorious for being a minor player in the Profumo scandal in The Sixties) appear briefly as Colin's parents.
  • Camp Gay: The Fabulous Hoplite.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After the riot that ends the film — indeed, after the end credits have started to roll — Harry Charms is seen holding a newspaper and in tears...but instead of crying about the riot, he's upset because Baby Boom is getting married ("This could ruin his career!").
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Vendice and Henley.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "That's Motivation".
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Enemy Mine: The mod and rocker who have been fighting each other throughout the film team up to stop the white supremacists.
  • Evil Plan: As it turns out, the white supremacists are being encouraged/employed by Vendice, Henley, et.al. to drive minorities out of Notting Hill. That would allow them to buy up the tenements cheaply, knock them down, and build luxury apartments in their place.
  • Femme Fatale: Dido.
  • Henpecked Husband: Arthur.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Big Jill, who runs a brothel.
    Colin: "Chicks only for Big Jill, but a boy's best friend anyway."
  • Lower-Class Lout: Ed the Ted and Colin's brother Vern.
  • Meaningful Name: Cool.
  • Minor Character, Major Song
    • Arthur, with "Quiet Life".
    • Vendice gets the least screentime of the heavies, but gets "That's Motivation" for his trouble.
  • Mood Whiplash: Starts out as a romantic and satirical musical. Then the white supremacist plot kicks in...
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Harry Charms, clearly meant to be Larry Parnes the record mogul and manager of teen sensation Billy Fury.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: David Bowie as Vendice. The corrupt businessman part he does very well. The American accent? Not so much — but this is intentional; Vendice is British and affecting the accent to sound "important" and "convincing". (This was Bowie's idea, inspired by his experiences in The Sixties; for a time, he worked as an artist at an ad agency where the higher-ups would affect such accents.) And when the accent drops, pay attention to what he's actually saying. It comes back to haunt Colin later...
  • The Oner: The tracking shot through Colin's neighborhood early on in the film; it also introduces several characters.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Arthur seems to be this way, what with Flora carrying on with her physical trainer (when she's not ordering Arthur around) and the kids up to all kinds of mischief. However, as his song "Quiet Life" shows, he's actually a subversion of this trope.
    Arthur: (singing) Confidentially, between these walls, I'm on top of it all.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: All seven are called out during "That's Motivation", with Vendice assuring Colin that he can indulge in all of them without consequences if he joins his team.
  • Teen Idol: Baby Boom is a satire of this trope.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: The full-length version of the title song got one, and it actually served as the trailer for the film in the U.K. (it was attached to Spies Like Us).
  • Villain Recruitment Song: "That's Motivation" for Vendice — and it works, if only temporarily.