I recently wrote about the often overlooked 1980s pop music extravaganza ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (1986) for The Cultural Gutter. The film has grown on me a lot over the years thanks to a central performance by the one and only David Bowie and a a growing respect for what (I believe) director Julien Temple was trying to achieve. Here’s an excerpt:
“The film’s ‘80s inspired neon color palette, bulky hair styles and modern fashion sense were an obvious attempt to attract the same youthful crowd that was watching the director’s videos on MTV but his auteur approach didn’t win him many fans. In the director’s attempt to appeal to such a large audience his film lacked focus, which only added to its jumbled narrative. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? Is it set in the ‘50s or the ‘80s? Temple’s film can’t seem to make up its mind. Despite its schizophrenic nature, Absolute Beginners has the distinction of being the first film to focus on the historic Notting Hill race riots of 1958 and use them as a dramatic backdrop. This was particularly daring at the time because the U.K. had continued to have race related problems for decades that were often overlooked by politicians and popular media. America was dealing with similar problems of its own that were being widely disregarded and these growing racial tensions would eventually erupt leading to events like the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The film’s serious side may have been easy to overlook at the time due to general ignorance about what it was addressing and its politics were undoubtedly overshadowed by the lighthearted musical numbers that seem at odds with the somber script. But today Temple’s highly stylized modern musical plays like a glossy attempt to address the complicated race problems that were quietly boiling under the slick veneer of ‘80s pop culture.”
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