We all know something was wrong with TV in the 1980s, making plastic looking sensibilities and emo-before-the-fact affect something particularly special. We would have to call this a complex quivver with pastel tonality, level five. Watching the Julian Temple film “Absolute Beginners”, with Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, Ray Davies, James Fox, and Tony Hyppolite as Mr Cool tonight. Fun.
Seeing it now, the sideways commentary on the Notting Hill ‘riots’ and mockery of British fascism is strange, but worthy. Tributes to West Side Story are the least of the referential codex. Mr Cool offers Colin a non-too subtle 80s style spliff while Sade sings ‘Killer Blow’. There’s stuff about crap housing, dodgy developers. a critique of roller-posh, a love story that redeems the teddy scat beatnik nexus. Incomprehensible now that Bowie was involved, even as he played a dodgy thin white supremicist duke ‘seller of dreams’. Creepy.
The story is from Colin MacInnes’s novel of the same name, and Temple fresh from his early Pistols docs does something else, the Fine Young Cannibals get a look in, and Eddie O’Connell (as Colin) does a great job of the young hip malchick-afor-the-letter.
If only Big Jill and Suzette (Kensit) had more scenes together – they could’ve been friends (and that would have saved her from life with Liam Gallagher and too many Man City away days). Not enough time with Ray as Colin’s dad, having lost his kinks, and Robbie Coltrane as ‘dadio’ Mario the sterotyped storekeeper – I guess we could have had more of that.
But its Steven Berkoff as some sort of Enoch Powell nasty racist uber-orator who is the point of the whole confection. The seller of dreams and Berkoff as one and the same (bastard) kind must be run out of town. So this film works for me because of its welcome unsubtle anti-racism. Plastic critiques of fascism seem somehow very very 80s, but they redeem the decade in a way we could learn much from for the present. You can remember/see how close the brown shirts were/are if you think of the naivety of Geldof’s do-gooder mobilisation and the tubthumping that is Radio Ga Ga. We need Resolute Beginnings now more than ever.