A word of appreciation for Absolute Beginners

Back in 1986 the director Julien Temple directed the film adaptation of Absolute Beginners; originally a book about life in London one summer in 1958.  It helped bankrupt one British studio, Goldcrest, and was instantly declared such a bomb that it’s rarely spoken about apart from ‘5 worst films ever’ type clickbait articles online., however the theme song by David Bowie is the only thing to really survive.

Part of the hate the film produced was the decision to turn the book into a musical, not to mention the charisma-free relationship between the two miscast leads (Patsy Kensit and Eddie O’Connell) and the fact the book was toned down. The film also has little sense of pace & the tone flits from weird British comedy to intense racial politics on a penny, plus those musical numbers stop the film dead even if some (like the Ray Davis one) are actually superb.

In short it deserves the reputation for being a mess and in places it is pretty awful, but, there’s one of the best opening shots you’ll see in a film as Temple guides the camera in one shot giving us a guided tour of the recreation of 50’s Soho.  There’s the production design which stands up as being part faithful, part idealised and of course some of the musical numbers are great. When the film clicks, I get what the filmmakers were trying to do and sure, the sometimes clunking acting, or the black hole of the central relationship comes back to punch you in the face in regards the bad side but something comes along shortly after to make you pine as to what it could have been, especially at the end during the Notting Hill race riots.

As a film it doesn’t deserve the hate its built up as there’s clearly far, far worse out there, but certain films become punching bags and Absolute Beginners is one of them. The film’s one big positive legacy though remains the theme song which is one of the greatest themes a film could have, which seeing as it came at a time in the 80’s when David Bowie wasn’t exactly at the top of his game (to say the least) for him to pull out a song which seriously gets better every time it’s heard is nothing short of genius.

When I saw Bowie perform the song at Glastonbury in 2000, it was nothing short of perfect. Standing there in a crowd of people transfixed hearing and seeing people moved by a song from a film that’s a third shit, a third weird genius and third all over the place and is now mainly forgotten is not an experience ever to be forgot.

So give the film another chance, or if you’ve never seen it watch it for what it is which is an ambitious, weird oddity with a brilliant opening, some great moments and one of the best songs of all time.

Have a look…

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Today would have been David Bowie’s birthday

In 1947 David Bowie was born and last year he died far, far too early last year which seemed to kick off what was a pretty dreadful year for anyone who isn’t a racist or a fuckwit.

Last September I posted about how I’d never listen to his final album,Blackstar, due to the wish to forever hold one final unheard bit of Bowie there at arm’s length. It was a nice idea, but unrealistic as bits and bobs of it have sneaked out into my ears so I’ve decided that it’d be a nice treat to myself to listen to it when I’m (hopefully) told my cancer is in remission after my (hopefully) final set of treatments which start at the end of this month. I don’t think I can face an idol of myself making music about their impending death while I’ve still got the thought and possibility of my own possible early demise rattling around in my head.

So happy birthday David Bowie. Here’s Absolute Beginners for no other reason that its my favourite Bowie song of the 1980’s…

Why I’ll never listen to David Bowie’s ”Blackstar”

blackstar

I don’t think I want to listen to David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. I don’t think I can. This isn’t because I despise Bowie, or what snippets I’ve heard sound awful, but the idea of hearing a final album from Bowie and then knowing that’s it; there’s nothing else new I’ll ever hear from David Bowie is a concept so hugely depressing that I can’t bring myself to sit down and listen to it.

When Bowie died from cancer back in January I was gutted beyond words. I could barely articulate what I felt and when a few months later I myself was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to avoid listening to the album probably due to it being a reminder of my own mortality even though my diagnosis isn’t terminal it’s bad enough to have considered my own untimely demise often over the last six months.

Which brings me back to Blackstar. It’ll remain unlistened to my myself.I don’t need to be reminded of Bowie’s early demise, nor do I want to have no more Bowie to listen to. I want to keep that thrill of excitement over a new Bowie album going for as long as I can before I finally (and I will) give out and accept Bowie’s gone and what we’ve got is it.

So I hope Blackstar wins this year’s Mercury Prize but for me, for now, I’ll back off from listening to it until I’m ready to accept Bowie is gone.

I think Mr. Newton has had enough-the films of David Bowie

As everyone is aware by now David Bowie died on Monday and his music is rightfully being played over and over, not to mention discussed but his work in film has been mentioned but not fully explored.

Bowie, like many a pop/rock star wanted to act but unlike a lot of musicians that go into acting Bowie wasn’t a total failure. In fact, his C.V is peppered with some spectacular films so here’s a brief jaunt through the films of Bowie starting with the peerless The Man Who Fell To Earth.

A few years ago I made a list of my favourite science fiction films and this wasn’t on the list, not because it’s not one of my favourite SF films, but because it’s one of my favourite films ever made and the intention was to have it head up a similar list but I got distracted onto other things.

TheManWhoFellToEarth

The Man Who Fell to Earth is simply to me one of the top five films ever made. It’s virtually flawless, and Bowie is astonishing as the alien that’s come to Earth in order to help save his planet. In lesser hands than Nicolas Roeg this could have been B-movie fare but both Roeg and the casting of Bowie raises this film into something more than another pessimistic bit of early 1970’s science fiction.

Roeg plays with time (something he does in many of his films) as Bowie’s race perceive time in a non-linear way that we humans do, not to mention he ages at a vastly different rate, something that only becomes clear when all around him start graying and putting on weight.

By the end though, Thomas Newton. the character played by Bowie is crushed by the people of planet Earth, He’s been mutilated by Earth scientists and his family, not to mention his planet, are long dead. All Newton has left to him is alcohol and thanks to owning lucrative patents he never needs to concern himself about money for what will be a very, very long life by Earth standards. It’s a sad, miserable end for a unique being on Earth acting only to preserve his race but is crushed by humanity. The parallels with Bowie are clear, obvious and played on in the film’s marketing especially.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is the finest film to ever star a musician in the starring role. It’s simply genius.

Bowie’s next film role was a small cameo in the bleak German film Christiane F.I’ll admit to having not seen the film in decades so my memories of it are faint but I remember being so depressed by it that I didn’t want to rush to see it again. There is however a scene of Bowie performing Station to Station that’s a brilliant little scene.

Next up is something I’ve not seen mentioned in one obituary of Bowie is his role in the BBC adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Bowie recorded the songs from the play for an EP which managed to chart in the UK’s Top 40.

As for the play, again, I’ve not seen it in decades but I do remember the reaction it had on me as a young lad that worshiped Bowie seeing him play this seedy little creature called Baal. The entire play is up on YouTube. I’ve watched it again last night and it really is a brilliant bit of work, not to mention Bowie is a revelation in it.

In the early 1980’s Bowie did a lot of work outwith music. The Snowman was something I wrote about only a couple of weeks ago, but The Hunger is a stylish horror film directed by Tony Scott that’s worth a look and is better than the trailer suggests.

A lot has been said of his role in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence….

Not to mention Labyrinth obviously…

However a few things have been missed. Jazzin’ For Blue Jean is a short film directed by Julien Temple for a song from Bowie’s pretty poor album, Tonight. It’s a great 20 minute short that shows off Bowie’s talent for comedy not to mention self-depreciation.

Then there’s Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners….

It’s difficult to actually see Absolute Beginners because it has at this point in time in the UK, no commercial DVD/Blu Ray release though you can get it in the US, which is a crying shame as it’s a brilliant failed experiment in British film-making which seems to have been brushed under the carpet as a major embarrassment because of how much it died at the box office rather than the content of the film.

Plus Bowie’s theme song is magnificent

After this he did mainly character roles or cameos but his Pontious Pilate in Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, his Andy Warhol in Basquiat, his turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and his self-referential cameo in Zoolander are all worth catching. It is however his part in David Lynch’s vastly underrated Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that closes this appreciation off…

So yet again it’s a thanks to David Bowie…..

 

EDITED TO ADD:

It’s been a crap start to 2016 as I write this the news of Alan Rickman’s death joins that of Bowie, Angus Scrimm and Lemmy over the last few week making it a grim time for people that grew up appreciating these people’s work. It seems that the best, unique talents are leaving us to be replaced by nothing like them because you can’t replace the best and these people certainly were the best in what they did. Just please, let the good ones that still live on stay with us a wee bit longer….

Time may change me-David Bowie RIP

As I’m sure everyone is aware, David Bowie died yesterday after an 18 month long struggle against cancer and the planet lost something unique.

Bowie helped provide a soundtrack for most of my life, and outwith of Pinky and Perky was the first pop star whose single I bought with my own pocket money. That single was Life on Mars in the year 1971.I’d apparently become obsessed with Bowie after hearing the sounds of Space Oddity leaking from my brothers bedroom.

So in 1971 one of the very first memories that lives with me is buying this from Woolworth’s.

lifeonmars

I’m not sure exactly what pulled me to Bowie but I do remember thinking he looked like a superhero in his makeup and costumes. Not a Jack Kirby-esque square jawed heroic figure, but something stranger like Steve Ditko would create; a strange, odd, unique figure that seemed like a champion for the odd and usual and from then til now Bowie became as constant as the North Star in my life.

Even before I’d hit double figures in terms of years Bowie was guiding me. I even wanted a Bowie mullet, and thankfully was never allowed that to happen as I’d look ridiculous in a mullet. Bowie would wear one perfectly.

I never got his lyrics when I was young. Of course I didn’t. I couldn’t have.That’s daft. I just liked the sound and vision he produced. I remember utterly adoring Sorrow but until I started writing this I’d probably not heard it in a decade. I’m now back to being barely a schoolchild again.

The defining incident for many, many people in regards Bowie was that performance of Starman on Top of the Pops. I loved the song because I thought it was about the Golden Age DC comics character, and I certainly didn’t pick up on the fact he was subverting a nation’s sexuality on prime time telly.

I did think however at the point he sung ‘‘I had to phone someone and I picked on you” that he was talking to me and only me rather than around nine million people on a Thursday night. It’s amazing to read people’s comments that they too thought Bowie was only speaking to them directly. That takes talent and a sincerity that few performers could ever have.

I still didn’t get Bowie’s lyrics. To me in my pre-teen years Life On Mars was a nice tune and not a commentary on American cultural imperialism. That sort of intellectual and emotional understanding didn’t come til years later, and in the case of Drive-In Saturday, decades later as it helped me through an especially bad break up with a girlfriend.

But he changed styles and personas. That was fine to me, I got it as after all as a fan of Doctor Who I was used to to the concept of regeneration, and in the mid to late 70’s as I grew older and smarter I started to appreciate Bowie more and more. I also noticed more and more the spattering of science fiction concepts in his music as I matured and got just what he was trying to do.

By the time I was in my teens Bowie had produced his finest material from Ziggy Stardust to Low to Scary Monsters. The only artist in my lifetime that comes close to that run of amazing work is Prince and that’s really, really pushing it.

Imagine any artists today putting out something like Low? Imagine anyone completely and utterly changing track and doing that at the height of Punk? There’s a thing too, many of the old acts were mocked and spat upon by the young punks but Bowie never lost respect because he was punk before that term became defined.

Bowie kept dabbling with the mainstream, especially in the U.S, but he was still like a moon orbiting it looking down throwing down little gems that’d sprinkle up the top 40 tunes.

After Let’s Dance he hit a barren patch. I fell back on his earlier material for comfort as he tried to take the mainstream by being mainstream, but he did one song that’s among my favourite songs ever, and again never really meant the same to me as I got older and developed more successful and unsuccessful relationships.

By the late 80’s/early 90’s, Bowie was being lapped by those that took from him what they could and British music was in the early stages of Britpop when suddenly Bowie became relevant again as after all, one couldn’t look at the likes of Suede or Pulp without pointing out the massive Bowie influence. Bowie himself came back with some new material but for me the pinnacle in my relationship with Bowie is the year 2000 and the final night of that year’s Glastonbury Festival.

I’d seen Bowie before (I even saw him play with Tin Machine) but there was something about the build up to the Glastonbury slot. Rumours were flying that Bowie was ill and this would be his last ever show, or that he was going to retire. All manner of things were flying round the still newborn internet of the day but the only fact is that Bowie was returning to a place he’d played 30 years previously. This was also on top of the perennial rumours of that year’s festival being the last, and in the first year of the new millennium David Bowie took his place on the Pyramid Stage and sung his heart out to 80k people, myself included. By the time he hit Life on Mars the field was full of grown men and women bawling their eyes out in a mix of golden flowing nostalgia and joy. Myself included.

In the years since Bowie’s music took on new meanings. I’d go back and listen to old songs and pick up things I never did previously. Songs would take on new meanings and become as embedded in my brain for different reasons as they were for what I thought when I was a wee boy who liked Bowie because I thought he only spoke to me through the telly.

And now he’s gone, but he’ll continue speaking to me, you and millions of people both alive and yet to be born because he’s still a hero that’ll speak to people. People find quality and the one thing Bowie very much has was quality that ensures that in centuries to come his music will live on and on and on. His legacy is carved in late 20th century culture. Without Bowie life would have been shabbier, duller and grey.

I’ve been lucky enough that in all the millions of years I could have been born I was born at a time when David Bowie could shape me growing up. Same with you reading this. Imagine people in a century coming across this blog, or the tens of thousands from fans mourning his death that they’re reading the experiences of people Bowie touched? I like that and I think Bowie would have too.

So cheerio David. Thanks for all you’ve done. You were always my hero.You always shall be.

It’s been 30 years since Live Aid

I realised while working on something else that 30 years ago this month Live Aid happened which is extraordinary. Not because of all the fantastic performances because really, you can count those on the fingers of one hand but because it seems to have sailed through the media with barely a ripple, and the media like doing these sort of anniversaries.

All those years ago though it was exciting to see all these megastars come on stage for 20 minutes to smash through some well known songs through a terrible sound system, and the brilliantly shambolic BBC coverage throughout the day was fantastic. Really though in hindsight it’s one of the reasons I ended up falling in love with the festival because seeing those crowds of people on my telly all crammed into the old Wembley Stadium was (and still is) an awesome sight. Musically though for an 18 year old that’d just started reading the NME and was into punk this should have been something to avoid but I’ve always been upfront about my love for pop so for me Live Aid was about David Bowie from the UK end, and this new act called Madonna on the American end. The rest of the bands were either washouts like Status Quo or The Boomtown Rats or just shite like Spandau Ballet.

I remember the build up for this being simply enormous. Simply everyone took time off on Saturday the 13th of July 1985 to sit in on a warm summers day to glue themselves to the TV. The streets of Glasgow were bare, and the same was the case all over the UK, but the entire thing was there to make money for famine relief so it wasn’t just about Elton John’s wig.

As for the acts something weird happened. Status Quo played a great opening. U2 showed they were a great rock act. Bowie played a set and a half. Queen did that set and Madonna showed she was something else. It is though looking back at the BBC footage of the event that’s a fantastic bit of archive as this video shows. My particular highlight is a drunk Robbie Coltrane (there’s also a drunk David Bowie) having a rant that charity and debt relief has been privatised, something incredibly prescient to say as this is what Live Aid actually did.

For an 18 year old this was all just spectacle but Coltrane hits the nail on the head, albeit drunkenly. Live Aid privatised aid. It was seized upon by right wing governments as an example of what could be done by people which gave successive governments reasons to absolve themselves from actually doing anything productive.

I can’t stop looking at the BBC continuity footage and marveling at the analogue nature of how the entire event managed to raise money, and indeed, the entire pre-internet era was when the most advanced bit of communication you had was a landline phone and Ceefax on the telly.Mentions of sending cheques, or going into offices and paying by trans-cash will be lost to most people not over the age of 40, or seeing Adam Ant’s career implode in front of billions, or being told that a couple gave their first house deposit of a grand, or seeing the dreadful dress sense of various BBC presenters is fantastic bits of living history.

The legacy of Live Aid is privatised aid. It’s governments using organisations live Live Aid as a beard to hide their own agendas to asset strip third world countries, and now Geldof isn’t that angry figure raging at the establishment as he’s now very mush a supportive part of the UK establishment. Yes it saved lives, lots of them, but there needs to be a thoughtful reappraisal of the effects of that day 30 years ago as it seemed so simple, so easy to save the world by just having pop stars perform for 20 minutes chunks but life and international politics isn’t that easy.It just seemed that easy for a day in 1985. Pity everything we thought then was wrong.

This two part BBC documentary from a decade ago is also something that helps put the event into some sort of historical context.

I Absolutely Love You

Right now on BBC Four there’s a collection of David Bowie videos and performances which frankly is filling my poor wee heart with joy at a time when my poor wee heart needs filling with joy.

One thing I need to do is point out how the song Absolute Beginners isn’t just my favourite Bowie song of the 1980’s, but one of my favourite ever songs. It might be the lovely Julien Temple video which more than ever makes me long for a London, long, long gone that still existed up until the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. It’s the fact the song drips with the sort of emotion a person of any age can identify with. It’s the fact it’s the best thing to come out of a film that’s a total pile of shite.

No, Absolute Beginners is as far as I’m concerned the definitive love song of the 1980’s. It’s a song anyone else would kill to have written but Bowie put it out at a time when frankly, he was at a creative low so do do this song at that time is a remarkable feat.

So join with me and enjoy…….