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With: Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Garry Cooper, Sting, Philip Davis, Mark Wingett, Ray Winstone
Written by: Dave Humphries, Franc Roddam, Martin Stellman, Pete Townshend
Directed by: Franc Roddam
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 117
Date: 05/14/1979

Quadrophenia (1979)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mods vs. Rockers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For some reason, The Who's music has provided great fodder for movie soundtracks. Their early tunes like "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "My Generation" pulse with aggressive energy, and their later works like "Won't Get Fooled Again" soar with an almost operatic, dramatic power. Movies that have benefited from a shot of The Who include: GoodFellas, Jerry Maguire, Rushmore, American Beauty, Bringing Out the Dead, Almost Famous and School of Rock.

In addition, The Who recorded two cinematic "concept" albums during their career, i.e. albums that presumably tell a story when listened to from beginning to end. Their 1969 album Tommy was made into a dreadful 1975 film by director Ken Russell, but the second time was the charm when their 1973 album Quadrophenia hit the big screen in 1979.

Directed by Franc Roddam (in his directorial debut), Quadrophenia takes place in 1964 England, when the Mods and the Rockers went at each other like cowboys and Indians. Phil Daniels stars as Jimmy, the smallest and most troubled of his band of Mods. His troubles begin when he runs into an old friend newly released from prison, only to discover that he's become a Rocker.

The Mods travel to the quaint beachside town of Brighton to fight the Rockers, and the brawls get bigger and bigger. After one such enormous fracas (which features the famous chant, "we are the mods -- we are the mods, mods, mods!") Jimmy begins to lose his hold on life. His girlfriend flits off with one of his friends, his parents discover his stash of "blues" (i.e. little blue valium pills, I'm told), and a mail truck runs over his motorbike. At the same time, a Mod named Ace (played by Sting, still with The Police just after their big hit "Roxanne"), whom Jimmy has come to admire, takes a job as a bellboy, jumping at the command of snooty rich tourists. And Jimmy can't take any more.

Quadrophenia succeeds through its devil-may-care attitude and energy. It feels like a low-budget homemade movie from the period (except that a movie marquee advertises Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait" at one point). Plot doesn't matter much. At one point one of the Mods declares that he'd like to get himself a gun. I immediately thought about where the movie would go if it were made today, a cautionary tale about angry youths and guns, but the line was just a throwaway -- part of the normal beat of life.

These kids spend their time and energy rebelling in every way they know how, and Jimmy's helpless anger and frustration in particular rings completely genuine. Certain scenes reminded me of my own "rebel" years (such as they were), even though the clothes and songs were different. In truth, every generation believes itself to be more outrageous than the one before it, but everything remains essentially the same. This universality makes Quadrophenia still seem relevant today.

When The Who's music kicks in, though, the movie jumps to another level. When "The Real Me," or "Love Reign O'er Me," or "5:15" soar over the images, our minds and spirits soar with them. Unlike "Tommy," director Roddam has managed to make the music secondary to the story, but essential all the same. The songs enhance the already-strong images, and in surprising and non-obvious ways. It's not a traditional musical by any stretch.

I somehow missed Quadrophenia in my youthful search for cult videos to enjoy with my friends, but I'm glad I finally caught up to it. It would have made a fine companion piece to Repo Man and other rebellious favorites. It still does.

Criterion's 2012 Blu-ray edition comes with a commentary track by director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano, two vintage television programs about "mods and rockers," an episode of BBC's "Talking Pictures" from 1979, an interview with The Who's sound engineer and another with the film's producer, and trailers. The liner notes booklet features essays by Howard Hampton and Irish Jack, as well as liner notes by Pete Townshend.

The transfer -- which preserves the grainy, working-class look of the film -- was supervised by cinematographer Brian Tufano and the new 5.1 sound mix was supervised by The Who. The original stereo 2.0 mix is also here.

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