Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Phil Daniels, Leslie
Ash, Garry Cooper, Toyah Willcox, Sting, Trevor Laird, Kate Williams, Michael
Elphick, Kim Neve, Ray Winstone, Gary Shail
Director: Franc Roddam
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, 2.0 Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2012
I became an enormous fan of The Who in my late teens (better late than never, right?). And yet, I waited far too long to finally experience one of their two cinematic rock operas. I still have yet to see Tommy (what is wrong with me?), and am just now seeing Quadrophenia for the very first time…so it’s understandable to call my love for the band into question.
The films simply escaped me for one reason another, but thanks to glorious invention that is Criterion Blu-ray, I no doubt got experience my first viewing of Quadrophenia in the best possible form next to a theatrical experience. Actually, with a re-mastered picture and a PHENOMENAL DTS HD sound mix, maybe I did get to experience it in the best way imaginable. But more on that later…
What can be said about the film is that it is unquestionably one of the all around best cinematic interpretations of any rock album that you will ever see. Between this and Pink Floyd: The Wall, which I’ve seen countless times, I’m not sure which one is better. But if you are a much devoted fan of The Who, seeing this film is indeed a requirement.
Set in London, 1965, the film follows the exploits of Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a scooter-riding teen who resents just about everything life has to offer. He can’t stand his job as a mail clerk, and he absolutely despises having to live with his parents, who indeed misunderstand him. In short, he is a dead on representation of a person depicted in many of the songs courtesy of Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and Moon.
But Jimmy has one thing to look forward to in his life, which is the frequent escape into the night life. Fueled by drugs and rock music, Jimmy and his fellow scooter mates enjoy a constant high and release every once of raging angst that dwells within. It’s basically a nightly line up of jamming to concerts at the local underground club followed by partying at a nearby flat.
A conflict exists between two groups. Jimmy’s clan is the Mods, who ride scooters and don green parkas. The rival gang, the Rockers, ride motorcycles and wear leather jackets. Their growing conflict explodes in a standout scene where to two gangs ignite a riot in Brighton Beach, which is one of the most jaw-dropping riot sequences I’ve ever seen unfold.
At the heart of the story though is Jimmy’s ultimate realization that at some point, in spite of his current rebellious nature, he will somehow have to give into the very establishment he finds himself fighting against. In a pivotal scene late in the film, Jimmy finds most of all his Mod associates have done away with their rebel ways and have gotten square jobs, as a way of gaining a true sense of self. This is a tough realization that Jimmy struggles with right to very final frame of the film.
And of course, the story is powered by an extraordinary lineup of music, and not just from The Who. A good number of notable rock and soul classics from the time period pop up in the movie, from James Brown’s “Night Train”, “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen and “Green Onions” by Booker T. But it is The Who’s music that is the main driving force of the film, as such legendary tracks as “I Am the Sea”, “The Real Me”, “5:15”, “Bellboy” and, especially, “Love Reign O’er Me” help to deliver a wallop of an impact, as only music from this remarkable rock band can do.
As it stands, Quadrophenia is one film experience that every diehard fan of The Who can’t afford to pass up. If you also happen to be a film lover, then the experience is twice as rewarding. Film versions of complete music albums are just about non-existent these days, but this is full-blown reminder that they really could be pulled off in a more than credible way.
Oh, and lastly, you get the added bonus of seeing both Sting and Ray Winstone in rare, youthful form.
Criterion, once again, displays pure Blu-ray perfection while simultaneously not sacrificing any of the visual elements the filmmakers were initially aiming for. The dreary color palette and film grain bits are presented at just right level here. At the same time, image detail is amazingly sharp and contrast is maintained most terrifically by way of the 1080p!
Hands down, a HUGE reason for fans of this film and The Who’s music to purchase this Blu-ray release, alone. The film has been given a tremendous re-working in the sound department in the form of a mind-blowing DTS HD 5.1 mix. I was instantly floored right from the opening shot, as the opening bits of music brought every channel to life. And a sound mix comparison seen in one of the bonus features illustrates a major change when compared the sound mix of the initial 1979 release. Bottom line: your sound system is going to deliver an unforgettable audio experience!
And here we have yet another HUGE reason to purchase this Blu-ray, as Criterion delivers a top-notch lineup of supplements. To start things off, there’s a brand new commentary with director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano, as well as a new interview with co-producer and co-manager of The Who, Bill Curbishley, a new interview with sound engineer, Bob Pridden, which features the aforementioned sound mix comparison. Next up is my absolute favorite of the extras: a segment from a 1979 episode of The BBC series, Talking Pictures, which features archived interviews and on-set footage. There’s also a segment from a 1964 episode of the French news program, Sept Jours Du Monde, on the subject of Mods and Rockers, as well as a 1965 episode of the French youth culture program, Seize Millions De Juenes: Mods, which features early footage of The Who. Rounding out the supplements are two Trailers for the film.
Lastly, like all great Criterion releases, we get a fantastic insert booklet. And this is one of biggest ones yet, as we get three separate sections. Featured is an essay by critic Howard Hampton, A 1985 personal history by original “mod” Irish Jack, and Pete Townshend's liner notes from the 1973 album.
Quadrophenia is one of the most potent depictions of youth rebellion you are ever likely to experience. The music of The Who is translated to the screen about as flawlessly as any fan of this band could hope to see and hear. And this Blu-ray release from Criterion serves as a great reason for both film lovers and rock music lovers to discover or re-discover this cinematic rock gem!