I am not certain why I avoided Quadrophenia (1979) for so many years. It might have had to do with the reviews, which in retrospect were likely based more on anti-Who sentiment than anything else. A lot of people (eventually including the band themselves) questioned the group’s decision to carry on after the death of Keith Moon. The 1973 Quadrophenia double album was also a source of controversy. Many people felt that while the songs on it were excellent, the story was confusing. With the of expansion of the concept of schizophrenia into a four-headed beast he called “quadrophenia,” Pete Townsend definitely overreached. I guess I allowed all of this to influence my interest in the film, and did not see it for years following its theatrical release.
Upon finally viewing Quadrophenia, I realized that these concerns were misplaced. Although The Who (including Moon) are credited as executive producers, director Franc Roddam seems to have been given free reign to make the film he wanted to make. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Quadrophenia was deemed worthy of inclusion in the Criterion Collection. Not only does the company go above and beyond with extra materials and such, just being selected to be a part of the Collection is a an honor in itself.
For those who are unfamiliar with the basic story, Townsend’s Quadrophenia was a recollection of the “mod” era of the early ’60s. The High Numbers (as The Who were briefly called) were marketed as the mod band, but they soon outgrew this distinction. Quadrophenia was Townsend’s romanticized look back at the era. The “four-part” personality of the character was intended to reflect the four members of The Who. It was also influenced by the failed audio experiment of quadraphonic sound.
What scriptwriters Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, and Roddam did was to strip away all the extraneous business, and focus on a very basic, and effective coming-of-age story. Jimmy (Phil Daniels) is a young, pilled-up Mod finding his way in early ’60s England. As history shows, their sworn enemies were dubbed the “Rockers,” and the Mods vs. Rockers gang fights became legendary.
When Jimmy runs into his childhood friend, Kevin (Raymond Winstone), things become interesting, as Kevin is a Rocker. Their childhood friendship is put to the test as the two now belong to rival gangs. When he discovers some fellow Mods beating up Kevin, Jimmy runs interference, but knows that they are both playing with forces outside of their individual control.
The rumble at Brighton is the famous climax of the film, and it shows just how pointless the whole enterprise is for both Mods and Rockers. The Ace Face is played by Sting, and seemingly has it all to Jimmy. That is until they get back home, and Jimmy spots Ace at his day job, as a bell hop. With this revelation, Jimmy finally sees that his lifestyle has been one of misplaced ideals. In the dramatic finale, he sends his scooter over the cliffs. When I first saw this scene I thought it was a suicidal gesture. But then we see Jimmy walking away, and realize that he was metaphorically saying goodbye to the Mod life.
In addition to the audio commentary on disc one, there is a second DVD soley devoted to extras. These include the September 7, 1979 episode of the BBC series Talking Pictures, which is devoted to a discussion of the film. The program features interviews with director Franc Roddam, Roger Daltrey, and Sting.
There are also two black and white, subtitled French programs from the mid-sixties, which focus on the whole Mods and Rockers phenomenon. The first is Sept Jours Du Monde (1964) which runs for eight minutes. The second is Seize Millions De Jeunes: “Mods” (1965) which is a 34-minute episode about Mod culture.
Besides these historical shows, there are also two 2012 interviews that were conducted especially for this release. The first is with Bob Curbishley, who has managed the Who since the mid-’70s. The second is with sound engineer Bob Pridden, who has been with the group since 1966. Both shed some light on various aspects of Quadrophenia, both the album, and film.
There is no question that this is the definitive edition of the film, and if you have a 5.1 system, the sound of it is absolutely incredible. Quadrophenia makes sense of a project that Pete Townsend might have been a little too close too in 1973. I have always felt the music on the double-album was some of their best, but the story was a bit hard to follow. With this film, the story is laid out in a logical manner, and it works very well. As usual with films in the Criterion Collection, I recommend Quadrophenia whole heartedly.