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    Absolute Astonishments

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Thirty years ago today, a British Invasion of sorts arrived on our shores. In The Motion Picture Guide, Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross christened it “a marvel of color, movement, music and youthful enthusiasm.” Based on Colin MacInnes’ 1959 cult novel, Absolute Beginners (1986) was singularly stylish and blazingly evocative. “As for relevant content, [it] has more than Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon and An American in Paris combined, dealing as it does with racism, fascism, greed and materialism. [Director Julien] Temple has combined entertainment, genre elements and social politics all in one ball, which rolls nonstop and gathers speed in the process. It’s almost as if Temple feared he would never make another feature and wanted to make sure he got everything in this one….[He] holds true to the rebellious, invigorating spirit of the novel, delivering what someday may be seen as one of the most important films of the decade.” Nash and Ross’s opinion turned out to be a minority view, as critics and audiences were stymied by the blitzkrieg of the film’s spectacular sights and sonics, and the film proved a crushing disappointment for its creators and backers. But time has given way to gentler and more thoughtful assessments of this dizzying and defiant celebration of a late-1950s neon-lit London full of ambitious strivers, corrupted dreamers, clashing cultures, class conflicts and the disruptively liberating effect of rock-’n’-roll. Decades of music videos of all stripes have since shared the DNA of this audacious project that provided a spectacular showcase for leads Eddie O’Connell, Patsy Kensit, James Fox, Ray Davies, Mandy Rice-Davies, Sade, Steven Berkoff and the charismatically iconic David Bowie, whose enduring title tune and whose devilish duet with O’Connell in the materialism ode That’s Motivation constituted, in Nash and Ross’s view, “one of the greatest film scenes of the decade, and surely in the history of musicals.” High-definition is also a prime format for experiencing the coolly scintillating cinematography of Oliver Stapleton, the rainbow-hued production design of John Beard and the blow-you-away assortment of rock and jazz songs by top-flight talents under the musical direction of Gil Evans. The film is still a lightning rod for diverse opinions as this 2012 assessment by Anthony Nield in The Quietus offers here: But a stubborn affection still colors the prickly memories of principals Temple and Kensit in Ben Beaumont-Thomas’ interview with them last fall for The Guardian here: Perhaps nobody’s reaction to this film will ever be absolute joy or absolute rejection. But the astonishments of Absolute Beginners, rivetingly rendered on Twilight Time Blu-ray, undoubtedly resonate somewhere in between.