Film Review from the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
The release of Absolute Beginners—a film based on the novel of the same name by Colin MacInnes—has coincided with some of the most intensive advertising ever launched for a British made film. In recent months all available publicity outlets—television and radio shows, magazine features, newspaper articles, billboard advertisements and pop video promos—have been mobilised in a desperate effort to sell the film to the British public.
The main financial backers, Goldcrest Films, are still smarting after the costly flop of their last major film, Revolution. Unless Absolute Beginners is a box-office success, Goldcrest Films threatens to go bust and the so-called renaissance of the British film industry which began with international triumphs like Chariots of Fire and Ghandi will come to an abrupt halt. The message then is loud and clear, buy British and help to save the British film industry.
But why should this be? In capitalist society films—like everything else—are produced as commodities to be sold on the market with the aim of making a profit. A successful film is one that makes a profit; an unsuccessful film is one that makes a loss. Films are no different from any other commodity in this respect: those who invest in a particular film do so in the belief that at the end of the day they will get more money out of it than they put in. Why should anyone pay to see a film just to line the pockets of those who have invested in it?
The British capitalist class has no doubt learned by now that appeals to patriotic feelings alone are not enough to sell commodities. The commodity itself must be carefully packaged to ensure success and in this respect Absolute Beginners is equipped with a wide variety of selling points. Its shrewd blend of music, glamour, fashion, nostalgia for the 1950s, and the presence of chart-topping pop stars such as David Bowie, Style Council and Sade should guarantee its profitability. As the film trade magazine Screen International puts it, Absolute Beginners is "a must for fans of the various star singers and musicians, and the mass audience of under-25s already hooked on pop videos".
In terms of content, Absolute Beginners is predictably superficial. Although it attempts to portray certain aspects of modern capitalism—the commodity fetishism of the advertising jungle and the Notting Hill race riots of the late 1950s—it does so only in a half-hearted manner and somehow succeeds in only glamourising them. Working class racism is vividly portrayed but no attempt is made to understand its underlying causes. However, accurate descriptions of reality are the last thing we should expect from a film like Absolute Beginners. If you desire escapism, fantasy and a glamourising of the past, then this is the film for you.