- Hello all. My name is Glenn Heath, longtime hibernator, first time poster. I run a film blog called Match Cuts and enjoy teaching Film Studies in San Diego, CA. I look forward to the growing success and participation of this blog.
The opening sequence of Julien Temple's Absolute Beginners, anchored by a dynamic long take/tracking shot down a bustling London street circa 1950's, immediately establishes a racial barrier between interior and exterior spaces. Colin, Temple's hip young hero, glides through the thick crowds of various archetypes snapping pictures and introducing each with the efficiency of a true insider, while never losing the beat of the outside environment. Prostitutes, cops, sailors, and party-goers all mix to form a melting pot of exuberance. But this facade of multiculturalism reveals distinct fissures when Colin and his girlfriend Suzette exit a nightclub, the excitement of the party almost overflowing onto the street. They are followed closely by an interracial couple, Mr. Cool and Dorita, arguing about proper public etiquette for their relationship, with Dorita delivering a powerful finale - "It's one thing in there, but it's different on the streets."
This response foreshadows a building tension between contrasting races, classes, and cultures in Absolute Beginners, a defining theme that comes to violent fruition in varying ways. The film challenges this fear of progress and the need to keep it inside, or hidden from the outside world, while portraying youth culture as a complex and daring force able to overcome corporate greed and artistic bastardization. Amazingly, Temple sees hope in his spastic protagonists and dissects interior spaces to clarify their specific potential, ultimately separating them from the staggering disappointments of adulthood. If David Bowie's conglomerate King comes to represent the draw of selling out, Colin and inevitably Suzette overcome this enormous void of consumption (best displayed in Bowie's dance number) and seek out the hidden joys of struggle, of tolerance, and of artistic collaboration. But even in the final moments of victory, after the brutal and bloody riots consume Colin's vision of Notting Hill, there's a sense of urgency toward deflating the power of bigotry and hate, that such destructive qualities could still crop up in the darkest corners of society and grow into a pandemic.
Absolute Beginners might not be a great film, but it certainly has a lot of ideas on its mind. Maybe most interestingly, the film struggles to reveal how space directly reflects ideologies of all kinds, and how we view ourselves within these walls, real or imagined.