One scene in “Quadrophenia” (1979) captures the absurdity and sincerity of youthful rebellion in all its sure-to-embarrass-you-in-the-future glory. Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) says to his friend Kevin (an incredibly young Ray Winstone), “I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see?” When you’re an angry young man, there’s no better way to prove you’re an individual than to dress and act exactly like everybody else… as long as you get to choose the everybody else in question. That’s the key, and Jimmy’s really in luck because it’s 1964 and there’s a brand new mob for him to blend into and therefore be his own man: “We are the mods. We are the mods. We are we are we are the mods.”
Even better, Jimmy not only has the mods, but the mods have the rockers, the natural enemies required for real group cohesion. You can be forgiven if you can’t quite tell the difference today. I imagine the angry old men of the time just shaking their fists at the lot of them, “Damn hooligans!” But here’s a quick guide: the mods dress like dandies, ride scooters (with lots and lots of mirrors on them) and listen to “modern” music; the greaser rockers wear leather, drive motorcycles, and listen to ever-so-slightly older music. Of course the joke’s on both the mods and the rockers now: their music plays on the same stations today, thus making it more convenient for today’s angry youth to ignore it completely.
The Who quickly became a favorite among the moddest of mods, and though the group was still enjoying mainstream stardom long after their earliest mod fans had retired their tight jeans for proper bankers’ attire, they built a monument to the movement and the moment with the rock album “Quadrophenia,” released in 1973 and built around the“quadrophenic” (that’s double schizophrenia, which sounds like a rough go!) teenager Jimmy, a very righteous Mod who never quite knows which personality is going to take charge during which track.
Six years later, The Who, encouraged by the success of Ken Russell’s delirious interpretation of “Tommy” (1975), oversaw the film adaptation of “Quadrophenia” with first-time feature director Franc Roddam at the helm. The story was loosely based on the album and starred 20 year old Phil Daniels as the awkward, irritating, self-centered and therefore eminently adolescent Jimmy. What is he mad about? What have you got? He doesn’t get along with his parents, hates his job, doesn’t see much of a future and doesn’t particularly care for the present, and makes it all worse by popping amphetamines morning, noon, and night.
No wonder that he’s at his happiest when he’s stirring up trouble, whether diving into a crowd at a mod dance or mixing it up with the rockers in the film’s audacious set-piece, a sprawling rumble that threatens to envelop all of Brighton and was based on the real mod-rocker clashes that ramped up public hysteria in 1964. Jimmy can’t do anything without getting carried away even by mod standards, and it’s also no wonder that everyone is always telling him to “Get out!” Except for his sort-of-girlfriend Steph (Leslie Ash) this one time in an alleyway, but that was just a quickie and she didn’t mean anything by it. But Jimmy sure did! The whole world’s set against Jimmy and he’s darn well going to make somebody pay for it. That somebody, of course, will be Jimmy.
By the time “Quadrophenia” was released in 1979, the metal-pierced punks still mourning the loss of Sid Vicious must not have known what to make of these neatly coiffed rebels, and there’s no way that Roddam could escape a nostalgic approach to his material which somewhat undermines the whole “live in the moment” ethos of the mods, but I suppose the same was true of the 1973 album. I was just about to make a painful pun about the film not quite having the sting it needs which would have been hilarious because, you see, the film also features a young Sting (just at the cusp of success with The Police) as the ultra-cool Ace Face, king of the mods, but I would never punish you like that.
“Quadrophenia” is a drama, not a rock opera like “Tommy,” and there are some lengthy periods with little music, but the score by The Who is still a prominent feature, of course; The Kingsmen, Manfred Mann and others also crop up from time to time. You don’t have to love The Who (I do not) to enjoy the movie, but it certainly helps. I’m not bowled over by “Quadrophenia” but it’s got groovy costumes, some cool music, a still-punkish Sting, a baby-faced Ray Winstone, and a very angst-ridden climax, so what’s not to like?
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. A pleasing thick grain is visible throughout, lending the visuals a slightly grimy look that is just perfect. The source print appears to be in excellent condition with only the slightest hints of minor damage visible throughout. Image detail is sharp throughout.
The film is presented with its original 2.0 mix (LPCM) and a new 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. I will turn it over to the Criterion notes: “Pete Townshend originally envisioned the 1973 album ‘Quadrophenia’ as a quadrophonic, or four-channel surround, recording. In 2011, Townshend and the Who’s sound engineer, Bob Pridden, went back to the record’s original source tapes to create a deluxe, remastered box set of the album… for which they created new 5.1 surround versions of certain songs. Knowing that this work had been done, Criterion contacted the band and asked them to work with us on making 5.1 versions of all the Who songs in the movie.”
Criterion combined elements from the film’s original sound stems with the newly remastered songs to come up with this “all-new, remixed 5.1 surround track” and I’m sure that fans of the group will appreciate the attention to detail. I always prefer to listen to a film with its original theatrical mix, however. The lossless sound on both mixes is flawless. Optional English subtitles support the English audio and may be needed for American viewers who have trouble with the thick British accents.
Criterion has stacked the deck for this release.
The film is accompanied by a new feature-length commentary by director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano, and was recorded in London in April, 2012.
The extras kick off with the Sep 7, 1979 episode of the BBC series “Talking Pictures” (26 min.) which features on-set footage from “Quadrophenia” which includes interviews with Roddam, Pete Townshend, and a young Sting who is mugging for the camera in a big way.
The disc has a section labeled “Mods and Rockers” which consists of two short programs. First is an excerpt (8 min.) from the May 22, 1964 episode of the French program “Sept jours du monde.” It’s not the most substantive feature in the world, but it’s worth checking out for the sardonic French putdowns of English lifestyles; the producers obviously did not think the Mods vs. Rockers battles were quite as apocalyptic as the British press made them out to be. The second is an episode (34 min.) of the French series “Seize millions de jeunes; ‘Mods’.” The youth culture series turned its attention to the emerging Mod scene which would not be around that much longer (the episode aired on Mar 18, 1965). The program includes an interviews with Townshend and a brief performance by The Who at the Marquee Club.
There are two new interviews: Bill Curbishley (14 min, recorded in 2012 in London) who was co-producer on the film and managed The Who since the mid-1970s and Bob Pridden (8 min., 2012). Pridden was The Who’s sound engineer for thirty plus years and he worked with Criterion to create the 5.1 surround track, often restoring/reconstructing the songs from original sound recordings. Criterion has noted that the final mix was approved by Townshend. This short feature includes a talk with Pridden and a restoration demonstration.
The disc also includes two theatrical Trailer, each a minute to a minute and a half long.
The thick 36-page insert booklet includes an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a 1985 article by Irish Jack (described as “one of the original mods”), and liner notes from the “Quadrophenia” album written by Townshend.
For “Quadrophenia” fans, perhaps Criterion could have included more extras featuring the remaining band members, but Townshend at least was heavily involved in the disc’s production. Aside from that, the disc is pretty packed with extras and the video and audio quality is superb as usual.
Great review, and the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.