Absolute Beginners (film)

Absolute Beginners

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Julien Temple
Produced by
Written by Richard Burridge
Cinematography Oliver Stapleton
Edited by Gerry Hambling
Distributed by Palace Pictures
Release dates
  • 18 April 1986 (1986-04-18)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £8.4 million[2]
Box office £1.8 million[3]

Absolute Beginners is a 1986 British rock musical film adapted from Colin MacInnes' book of the same name about life in late 1950s London. The film was directed by Julien Temple, featured David Bowie and Sade, and Patsy Kensit in one of her first mainstream roles. The film was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.[4]

Upon release, Absolute Beginners received immense coverage in the British media. At the time, the British film industry was perceived as being on the point of collapse (with the recent failure of the film Revolution). However, the film was panned by critics and became a box office bomb. Some of the criticisms included stylistic anachronisms, such as the mini-skirt and decidedly 1980s music from the likes of The Style Council and Sade, the bowdlerisation of Kensit's character (Crepe Suzette had been depicted as a promiscuous "negrophile" in the book), and the casting of Bowie, who made it a condition of his musical contribution. Although the film was not a success, Bowie's theme song was very popular in the UK and reached number two in the charts.

The commercial failure of Absolute Beginners and another film released about the same time, The Mission, led to the collapse of Goldcrest, a major British film studio.


The film takes place in 1958, a time in which pop culture is transforming from 1950s jazz and early rock to a new generation on the verge of the 1960s. London is post-World War II, but pre-Beatles/Stones. The storyline incorporates elements of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.

Young photographer Colin falls in love with aspiring fashion designer Crepe Suzette but she's only interested in her career. Colin tries to win her affections by taking a crack at the big time himself. Meanwhile, racial tensions heat up in Colin's neighbourhood of London.



$2.5 million of the film's budget came from Orion and £2.5 million from Goldcrest.[5]


Writing in The New York Times, film critic Caryn James was largely unmoved by the film and remarked upon the "uneveness" of Temple's adaptation, and its "erratic" results.[6] Elsewhere Pauline Kael declared that, despite Temple's bona fides, the musical is "peculiarly unlyrical and ephemeral".[7] Comparing it unfavorably to MacInnes' novel, she wrote: "The film has a glossy immediacy, and you can feel the flash and determination that went into it. What you don't feel is the tormented romanticism that made English adolescents in the '70s swear by the novel the way American kids had earlier sworn by The Catcher in the Rye.[7] Jeremy Allen in The Guardian praised Bowie's theme song but described the film as "an overbudget turkey of huge proportions".[8] Corey K. Creekmur stated in The International Film Musical that although the film "failed to deliver on the critical expectations surrounding it", it remained "a deeply interesting, if flawed, attempt to harness the contemporary musical in the services of politics and social equality".[9]


Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released 7 April 1986 (1986-04-07)
Genre Jazz, acid jazz, downtempo, pop, rock
Label Virgin Records
Producer Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley
Singles from Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  1. "Absolute Beginners"
    Released: March 1986

Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was concurrently released to promote the film. Aside from the plethora of music from contributing artists, the musical score was composed by Gil Evans. David Bowie's title track, Ray Davies' "Quiet Life" and the Style Council's songs were released as singles. Tracks 11-18 were exclusive to the CD version.

Track listing

  1. "Absolute Beginners" — David Bowie - 8:03
  2. "Killer Blow" — Sade - 4:37
  3. "Have You Ever Had It Blue?" — The Style Council - 5:37
  4. "Quiet Life" — Ray Davies - 2:56
  5. "Va Va Voom" — Gil Evans - 3:26
  6. "That's Motivation" — David Bowie - 4:14
  7. "Having It All" — Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit - 3:08
  8. "Rodrigo Bay" — Working Week - 3:32
  9. "Selling Out" — Slim Gaillard - 3:36
  10. "Riot City" — Jerry Dammers - 8:29
  11. "Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)" — Gil Evans - 3:00
  12. "Ted Ain't Ded" — Tenpole Tudor - 2:35
  13. "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)" — David Bowie - 3:13
  14. "Napoli" — Clive Langer - 4:08
  15. "Little Cat (You've Never Had It So Good)" — Jonas - 2:19
  16. "Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)" — Gil Evans - 1:49
  17. "So What? (Lyric Version)" — Smiley Culture - 4:18
  18. "Absolute Beginners (Refrain)" — Gil Evans - 1:41

A double length cassette (Virgin TCVD 2514) was also released that featured four more tracks: B6 and B8-B10.

Track listing:

Side A
  1. "Absolute Beginners", David Bowie (Bowie)
  2. "Killer Blow", Sade (Sade Adu, Simon Booth, Larry Stabbins)
  3. "Have You Ever Had It Blue?", The Style Council (Paul Weller, arranged by David Bedford)
  4. "Quiet Life", Ray Davies (Davies)
  5. "Va Va Voom", Gil Evans (Evans)
  6. "That's Motivation", David Bowie (Bowie)
  7. "Having It All", Eighth Wonder featuring Patsy Kensit (Geoff Beauchamp, Alex Godson, Kensit)
  8. "Rodrigo Bay", Working Week (Booth, Stabbins)
  9. "Selling Out", Slim Gaillard (Gaillard, Tot Taylor, Julien Temple)
  10. "Riot City", Jerry Dammers (Dammers)
Side B
  1. "Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)", Gil Evans (Charles Mingus)
  2. "Ted Ain't Ded", Tenpole Tudor (Temple, Edward Tudor-Pole)
  3. "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)", David Bowie (Franco Migliacci, Domenico Modugno)
  4. "Napoli", Clive Langer (Langer, Temple)
  5. "Little Cat (You've Never Had It So Good)", Jonas (24) (Nick Lowe)
  6. "Absolute Beginners (Slight Refrain)", Gil Evans (Bowie)
  7. "Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)", Gil Evans (Mingus)
  8. "Landlords And Tenants", Laurel Aitken (Aitken)
  9. "Santa Lucia", Ekow Abban (Abban)
  10. "Cool Napoli", Gil Evans (Langer, Temple)
  11. "So What? (Lyric Version)", Smiley Culture (Culture, Miles Davis)
  12. "Absolute Beginners (Refrain)", Gil Evans (Bowie)


  1. "Absolute Beginners (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 18 March 1986. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  2. Walker p33
  3. Walker p54
  4. "Festival de Cannes: Absolute Beginners". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  5. "Bad Beginning." Sunday Times [London, England] 15 June 1986: 45. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  6. James, Caryn (18 April 1986). "Rock Musical 'Beginners'". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  7. 1 2 Kael, Pauline (2011) [1991]. 5001 Nights at the Movies. Henry Holt and Company. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-250-03357-4.
  8. Allen, Jeremy (3 December 2014). "David Bowie: 10 of the best". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  9. Creekmur, Corey K. (2013). The International Film Musical. Edinburgh University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0748634774.

External links

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