Monday, December 15, 2008
Why Absolute Beginners? (An Overture)
Picking a topic for Film of the Month Club has an active element to it. When you pick a film, you're making a statement: you're telling everyone the sort of movie you'd like to see discussed. There's an idealistic element as well: your vision of Film of the Month Club, and of film discussion in general ("This is the sort of film we should be discussing.").
Chris Cagle e-mailed me a few months ago, asking whether I wanted to pick a film for Film of the Month Club to cover. I wrote back quickly: Absolute Beginners. A movie that doesn't have a very strong critical reputation, wasn't commercially successful, and doesn't even have a cult following that I'm aware of. It's, as auteurism has taught us, a "Julien Temple film," though I'd rather say it's a "movie directed by Julien Temple." It's neither refined nor always rewarding. It's undeniably a product of the great "lost decade" of cinema, the 1980s. So why Absolute Beginners?
A person writing critically (let's call him or her a critic, regardless of actual profession) should be able to write a hundred different essays about the same film, just as a filmmaker should be able to make a hundred films from the same set-up. This is does not invalidate criticism; it reaffirms it as a vital act. If there was only one correct answer, there would be no reason to ask questions, just as if there was a clear right and wrong there'd be no reason for morality or ethics.
Similarly, there is no right or wrong type of film to write about, no right or wrong directors. Many uninformative essays have been written about Fritz Lang. Many insightful things have been written about Tony Scott. It's rare that you read something original about film noir, yet people continue writing about it, when there are hundreds of equally valid genres that no one takes seriously (pornography, for one; American action films, for another). So my pick of Absolute Beginners represents a certain Utopian dream: getting a group of people to watch and consider a film no one watches or considers. To look directly into something that normally exists in our peripheral vision, that we only see out of the corner of our eye.
And the writers and the readers will find there's as much here as in any other film.