Russell version of Tommy, but this time they formed their own production company just so theywould get it right. They did. Franc Roddam was an unknown director who, first time out, did a marvelous job. He would never get it right again; the only encounter I've had with his other films was during insomnia on vacation, where his version of the Frankenstein tale, The Bride (starring Sting), was so boring that even the sequence where the monster was brought to lifewas dull. After some dismal movies (K2, The Lords Of Discipline), Roddam finally moved on to
television, where he has achieved some success with his mini-series "Cleopatra" and "Moby Dick."
Anyway: Quadrophenia takes place in either 1964 or 1963, and I would know this if I were better acquainted with the history of the Mods and the Rockers. I wasn't alive then (not even close), so I missed out on this real-life clash between rival gangs, which didn't stop for many many years. The historical context is lost on me, but it wasn't on The Who; they were Mods, and their "My Generation" was picked up as a Mod anthem. Evidently by the late 70s Townshend et al were feeling queasy about this, because the film depicts bored, occasionally insane teenagers causing havoc and generally wasting their lives in a remarkably unpleasant environment; certainly not the kind of guys you want to use your music as a banner.
Jimmy (Phil Daniels, who went on tours of the album with The Who as well) lives in a family where his mother's side of the family had mental health problems. He prefers being nonsensical voluntarily, losing a lot of sleep cruising the streets on his motorcycle with the Mods, taking drugs and generally wasting time. He's really waiting for the annual clash between the Mods' arch-nemesis, the Rockers. When it comes, riots erupt and he ends up in court, which leads to an inevitable downward spiral for him.
Quadrophenia is at its best in the first 90 minutes, where it concentrates on the day-to-day details of life. It's a kind of neo-realism, backed but never superseded by the score. All the actors are fine, and the cinematography is solid, especially Roddam's trick of placing the camera at the center of the action and simply panning 360 degrees. Grimy and believable, the film isn't drudgery but an absorbing portrait of a depressing life. It's in the end that it falters. By showing us the inevitable (i.e., Jimmy getting kicked out of house and home, taking so many drugs that he's going out of his head), the film has nowhere to go but down. Furthermore, The Who's decidedly non-accessible score gets more attention than in the rest of the film, as the images become a sort of background. It's redundant and unncessary, seemingly done just to encompass the entire album. At heart, though, this is an absorbing and fine portrait of dead-end London life, with particularly fine use of period songs not by The Who. And it's Franc Roddam's only good movie.
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