...a definite must-see for any fan of The Who or rock ‘n' roll in general.

William D. Lee's picture

"Don't cry
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland."

The Who. To say that they are one of the greatest rock bands of all-time still wouldn't be an adequate enough description of the band and all they've accomplished. Along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who stood head and shoulders above their peers during the British Invasion of the 60's. The heavy stage presence of lead singer Roger Daltrey, the windmill movements of Pete Townshend's guitar strumming, and the wild drumming of Keith Moon. In contrast, there was John Entwistle who was rather stoic on stage, but his typewriter approach has lead to him being considered one of the greatest bass players of all-time. Originally airing on VH-1, "Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who" is a two-hour documentary that chronicles the birth of the band, their break-up in 1983, and their recent reunion tours. The film features archival footage and photos mixed in with Daltrey and Townshend talking to the camera. Also interviewed are family and friends, members of their management team such as Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terrence Stamp), and fellow musicians like the Edge of U2, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, and Sting.

The band members all came from working class families in London with Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle bonding over American blues. It wasn't until Keith Moon approached them after a concert and cockily stated, "I hear you're looking for a drummer. Well, I'm much better than the one you have". Originally called the Detours, the boys sat around, slightly stoned, and brainstormed several goofy new names. "The Who" was the winner though "The Hair" was a close contender. In fact, Townshend actually toyed with the idea of calling the band, "The Hair and the Who." To say they got along famously wouldn't exactly be true. They didn't have much in common aside from music, but they credited that tension with giving the Who an edge on-stage.

No one knows what it's like to be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes.

The Who, admittedly, had a very similar sound to many of their contemporaries. It was Townshend who became the band's driving creative force with constant encouragement from band manager and Track Records owner, Kit Lambert. Wanting to challenge himself far beyond the confines of mere pop music, Townshend took inspiration from the frilly sound of the Kinks, but injected lyrics that were deeper and more meaningful than other top 10 hits of the day. It was Townshend's artistic needs that led to the landmark concept album and rock opera, Tommy. The success of Tommy in turn led to the Who touring opera houses, which provided better acoustics than the standard rock venues, and got them into the New York Metropolitan, despite protests from snobby, hoity toity types. However, Townshend's attempts at a follow-up called Lifehouse (a futuristic, interactive science fiction piece) never came to fruition as his imagination far exceeded conventional means. It also caused a split between Townshend and his mentor Lambert.

Taking a step back, "Amazing Journey" also recounts the tale of how the Who stepped into rock ‘n' roll immortality after Townshend accidentally broke the head of his guitar after banging it against the ceiling during a concert. In a moment of serendipity, Townshend said, "Why the Hell not?" and smashed the rest of his guitar to pieces. While Jerry Lee Lewis was already setting his pianos on fire, the Who was the first band to destroy their instruments. It became their trademark and the crowds would go mad. During the band's first American tour, the Who were scheduled to play at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. When they discovered Jimi Hendrix (who was high on acid) planned to steal their act, the Who fought to go on stage first. Shortly thereafter, the band made an infamous appearance on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" where a stagehand overloaded Keith Moon's drum kit with too much explosives and the resultant detonation blew shrapnel into Moon's arm and caused permanent damage to Townshend's hearing. Legend has it that the Who also trashed a hotel room at the Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan and Moon drove his Rolls-Royce straight into the swimming pool. Supposedly, the band was barred from every Holiday Inn in the States.

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again.

Interviewees are also up front about their drug use. During their early days, the band took amphetamines to deal with the grind of touring. The cost of those ups was the deterioration of their ability to play live. After one horrid performance, Daltrey got fed up enough to flush their drugs down a toilet and got into a fistfight with Townshend over it. Sadly, Moon never reined in his rampant drug use and partying ways. He even passed out during a concert in San Francisco forcing the Who to ask an audience member to substitute for him. Many believed that Moon was never the same following the death of his friend Neil Boland, who Moon accidentally struck with his car while trying to escape a gang of skinheads. Moon died in 1978 due to an overdose of pills. Ironically, he was found dead in the same hotel room as where Mama Cass was found. While Entwistle lived longer than his band mate, he still passed away far too soon having lived the rock ‘n' roll lifestyle to the bitter end. Entwistle never learned to curb his excessive spending leading Daltrey and Townshend to begin the first of many reunion tours to help their friend's finances. He still spent more than his means and died in 2002 due to a heart attack caused by cocaine use.

The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new footage and interviews look good, definitely better than broadcast quality. It's nothing too spectacular, but then again, it doesn't really need to be. The archival footage is of varying quality depending on the age. Some of it looks really good, some of it is VHS-level, and older footage is pretty grainy and scratchy.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is really where the DVDs shine as the music of the Who sounds really sweet in 5.1. Entwistle's bass is deep and you can feel the vibrations throughout your living room. Daltrey's vocals, Moon's drums, and Townshend's amazing guitar all come through loud and clear. I only wished there was more footage of the band in concert.

Those of you not getting enough of a Who fix with the main feature will be happy to know there's a second disc. Entitled "Six Short Ones", it features six short films that compliment the documentary and can be played separately or together. The first four films each focus on a different member of the band. There is some slight overlapping, but for the most part we learn more about each musician's background, creative process, and we hear from others about how they were influenced by the Who. Perhaps, the most fascinating section comes from drummer Rob Ladd who breaks down and demonstrates how Keith Moon's technique differed from the usual drummers. Ladd makes the apt observation of comparing Moon to Jackson Pollock.

Who Art Thou runs about nine and a half minutes and focuses on the British mod culture of the 1960's. Everybody discusses the music, hairstyles, fashion, and art of the time.

Who's Back is an intimate look at the Who returning to the studio in 2003 to record new material for the first time in decades. This is a really wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the band at work. Who's Back runs a little over twenty six minutes and was directed by documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.

Also included on the second disc are The High Numbers at the Railway Hotel 1964 is footage of the Who (then called the High Numbers) in concert. This was shot by Kit Lambert for a film about the band that was never completed. It is the only known footage to have survived.

Scrapbook consists of six short sections that act as anecdotes about different points in the Who's history. Long-time band manager Bill Curbishley is interviewed for Dinner with Moon and discusses a typical night with the rambunctious Keith Moon who drunkenly ate part of John Entwistle's dinner, urinated on the wall of his hotel room, and passed out. A Legal Matter focuses on the band breaking contract with their former producer Sal Talmey. In Won't Get Fooled Again, Pete Townshend discusses writing the song and how he was surrounded by whacked out hippies bumming off of him. Cincinnati: The Whole Story focuses on the tragic events during a concert in which eleven people were trampled to death. In Royal Albert Hall 2000, Noel Gallagher talks about being asked to play with the Who.

The two DVDs come in separate slim cases and the set comes with an eleven page booklet.

Before viewing "Amazing Journey", my main concern was going to be a lack of depth to the documentary. Unfortunately, my concerns weren't eased. It's a terrific overview of the Who, but tends to gloss over some really important events like the "Smothers Brothers" appearance. It's significantly better than most "Behind the Music" specials, but doesn't delve as intensely as it should. I also would have loved to have seen more archival footage of the band in concert or in the recording studio. Still, this is a definite must-see for any fan of the Who or rock ‘n' roll in general.


Film Value