QUADROPHENIA (1979)


The movie inspired by The Who concept album of the same name and is not a rock opera, but a coming of age story that takes place during the Mods and Rockers riots in Brighton in 1965. I first saw the movie when it was initially released and found it to be one of the most exciting films of that year. Thirty-three years later, it still retains much of its power. At the same time, some of its faults are now starting to show through (don’t you hate when that happens). The main character, Jimmy, is a Mod, a London youth who dresses in suits, ties and hats, rides a scooter and listens to Motown and the new music of upcoming artists like The Who. This is in opposition to the Rockers, youths of the same age who dress in leather, ride motorcycles and still listen to Rockabilly music like that of Elvis Presley. For some reason, mainly because they don’t have anything better to do, the two groups have become bitter enemies. Jimmy also hates his life: he works in the mailroom of a stodgy British firm and has parents who don’t understand him (do they ever in these kinds of movies). He spends his nights going to parties, taking pills, dancing and lusting after Steph, a girl who may or may not be interested in him, but is dating someone else. Jimmy is basically the same character you find played by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, youth who can find no real meaning in life, who have nothing significant to do and have no goals, so as a result they spend their days and nights doing little but wandering vaguely through a soulless existence, often getting into trouble (as the dialog goes in The Wild One, “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” “What have you got”). Quadrophenia’s strongest asset, the part of the movie that still endures after all these years, is the amazing way the filmmakers take us into the world of the Mods of the time. We go to parties and smoke filled clubs, wander the streets on scooters, watch people dance to Be My Baby and I Met Him on a Sunday. The clothes, the styles, the day to day lives of the characters, their homes are all revealed in strong, visual detail. One can almost smell the cigarette smoke and taste the liquor. And then all the Mods go down to Brighton for no other reason but to party; well, if one were totally honest, they are also go there to rough it up with the Rockers and when the riots break out, this is a stunning set piece of first the Mods attacking the Rockers, the Rockers rallying and fighting back and then police showing. It all has a visceral “you are there” feel to it. And as day follows night, Jimmy’s allusions are then shattered one by one until he’s left with nothing. As exciting as much of it is, it mainly suffers from the casting of Philip Kearns as Jimmy. He has a birdlike appearance and an awkwardness necessary to the character, but he is no James Dean or John Travolta. He often can do little but have confused, pained expressions on his face which only sometimes convince. He is surrounded by a large number of familiar faces all of whom one can see still today, only much, much older (which was rather depressing in a way), in various TV shows and movies. The two most prominent are Ray Winstone (so young he was called Raymond Winstone in the credits; he first appears totally nude in a room next to Kearns as the two get cleaned up at a local bathhouse—the nudity is pertinent; the idea is that Winstone is a Rocker, but without clothes on, everyone is the same), and Timothy Spall in a blink or you’ll miss him role as a projectionist—you’ll recognize him from his roles in both Mike Leigh and Harry Potter films (probably the only time you’ll run across a sentence like that). Sting also makes an appearance in a highly symbolic role—he’s the coolest of the cool, the one guy everyone wants to be until Jimmy finds out the truth about him. The ambiguous ending is shot at the real life location where someone killed himself, an event that inspired the movie’s finale. Directed by Franc Roddam (feature film debut) and written by Roddam, Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman.

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