What began as me scrolling through the long and impressive list of music videos that Julien Temple directed over the years has led to a few unlikely discoveries, fun connections, and one very strong recovered musical memory.
Temple directed the critically panned, yet cult favorite Absolute Beginners (which co-starred David Bowie), as well as Bowie’s video for the movie’s theme song.
But let’s go back a step to the absolute beginning.
I wasn’t even planning on reading up on Temple and his filmography. Nor his videography. I was originally looking up information for a favorite dance video from my youth, Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You,” which led me to remember her other video for “Alright,” as they both feature Janet singing and dancing her way around little towns that clearly were built on soundstages, while the camera follows, using long tracking shots. Additionally, both videos echo the cinematic style that Temple used in Absolute Beginners. And that’s because the common thread here is: Temple directed all of the above! Sadly, there’s no readily found video online for the opening sequence to Absolute Beginners, but here’s the trailer, which gives you a clear idea of the style Temple was working with.
And, for comparison purposes, here’s Janet’s amazing “When I Think of You” video.
But back to Bowie for now. He began performing “Absolute Beginners” on his 1987 Glass Spider world tour, and I remember that tour vividly, as I had a really cool older cousin who gave me her copy of the tour on VHS. This was of course back when the local video store had an entire section of VHS tapes from various concerts. The Glass Spider tour and Stevie Nicks: Live at Red Rocks were two videotapes that I watched repeatedly. And I was always amazed by the site of the enormous spider that loomed large over the stage.
But my cousin’s tape wasn’t the official VHS. No, hers was recorded from the broadcast version of the concert, which aired on ABC at some point in 1987.
Here’s “Absolute Beginners” as performed on the Glass Spider tour. You gotta love Bowie’s enormous Ernestine the Operator-style headset.
And this leads us, finally, to Pepsi and their commercial sponsorship of the Glass Spider tour. For sponsoring a portion of his tour, Bowie reciprocated by filming a music video-themed commercial for Pepsi (called “The Creation”). Set to the music of “Modern Love,” with lyrics slightly altered to refer to Pepsi, the commercial features Bowie as a mad scientist of sorts. And with an odd nod to Weird Science (which had come out two years earlier), Bowie’s character uploads images into a dystopian looking computer machine; with the end product being…TINA TURNER.
This is a commercial that I had totally forgotten about until venturing down the Julien Temple-themed rabbit hole this morning. And of course I now remember the Pepsi commercial vividly. The soda spilling into the machine. The nerdly scientist getting hit with a gust of wind and becoming the Thin White Duke. I even anticipated seeing the lingering shot of Tina’s high-heeled bootie as she makes her way out of the doorway and down the stairs.
Changing the lyrics “Gets me to the church on time” to “Now I know the choice is mine” helped to tie-in with Pepsi’s “Choice of a New Generation” campaign slogan.
The movie Absolute Beginners probably deserves its own post. And obviously that’s something I’ll get to the next time I’m doing something tangential…like watching old episodes of Barney Miller or reading up on Elmer Fudd.
-DJ Darko, Your Pop Culture Mixologist
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