AFTER all the hysteria — the novel's timely reappearance and press speculation and sycophancy — Absolute Beginners (Leicester Square Theatre, '15') is about to tempt you to the cinema. Be bold and resolute: stay at home and do the ironing.
As everyone knows by now, Cohn Macinnes's novel of 1958 London streetlife was inspired by the fashion and street photography of Roger Mayne. Froth' that literary tribute, director Julian Temple has contrived a story of teenage love threatened by financial and professional pressures, by street violence and by the loss of the audience's attention.
It was thought, perhaps, that the public would thrill to the recreation of Soho and Notting Hill at Elstree Studios. But who, out of London, let alone England, could care? (And Londoners themselves may wonder why such a meticulous Notting Hill seemed to centre around White City tube — did the Capital suffer a landslide we have all forgotten?) It might also have been hoped that public sympathy would have been moved by the tender love between Eddie O'Connell (playing the Mayne-figure) and Patsy Kensit. But this film lacks any emotional strength or coherence. It is instead an apparently interminable pop video without the banal and illiterate interjections of a discjockey.
Rather than develop a plausible relationship between O'Connell and Kensit, Temple has all his characters break into crashingly tedious dance routines at every excuse (one such routine borrowed blatantly from Bombay Talkie). When they do talk, the principals betray an alarming notion of what acting is all about (O'Connell cannot seriously believe that he behaves anything like a photographer).
And the supposedly serious backbone of the film — racial tension and the beginnings of post-war teenage tyranny make absolutely no impact. The film is very well lit, the title-song (by Bowie) superb; but oh dear, for me "the most talked-about film of the year" was an absolute non-starter.
If a British film isn't nostalgic, it tends to agonise about the worst aspects of contemporary England, failing always to find fault with the past or merit in the present. But some conformations to trend can be forgiven. No .Surrender (Odeon Haymarket, '15 ' ), s et unashamedly in 1986, is one of them.
Mike (Michael Angelis) arrives at a Liverpool nightclub as the new manager. It is New Year's Eve. In the cellar, his predecessor is being tortured by the club's owner. That night, the club has been double-booked by two groups of pensioners: Irish Catholics in fancy-dress and the local club of Orangemen. Further complications are provided by the hopeless entertainment acts, by the crowds of senile geriatrics who sit between the warring religious partisans and Norman, an Ulster terrorist hiding in the gents. Alan Bleasdale, creator of Boys from the Black Stuff, wrote the film; and many actors appear in both productions. In a strong cast, Michael Angelis — a master of nasal Liverpudlian irony — stands out. The film's moral middle-ground, "a nobody's nobody", after discovering that the club he has taken over is a front for organised crime, he retreats to his room and like Hamlet tries to galvanise himself into action; for times are hard, "it is difficult to be a hero".
The mordant screenplay permits occasional laughter (Special Branch go to Attlee, rather than Gaitskell, Heights to arrest Norman); but the general picture is bleak; poverty, violence, above all, religious partisanship. At the height of the slanging between the Catholics — grotesque fools masquerading as Queens and Quasimodos — and the belligerent Orangemen, the geriatrics in between display the greatest dignity.
No Surrender may be depressing and cinematically unadventurous but as Comedies of Bad Manners go, it is at least sharp.
The same cannot be said for White Nights (Odeon, Leicester Square, `PG'). Taylor Hackford's account of a defector (Baryshnikov) being arrested when his flight crashes in Russia is typical current American cinema: full of selfcongratulatory rhetoric about freedom never counterbalanced by Gregory Hines's rantings against Harlem or Vietnam.
The happy climax of escapefor the KGB are cretinously stupid — ignores the anxieties of Isabella Rossellini leaving her homeland; and of Gregory Hines, returning to a country he rejected.