Friday, August 7, 2015

Cult Movie Project #17 (of 200) :: Brighton Calling: The Rockin' Hot-Mod Rumble of Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia (1979)


A mash-up of Quadrophonic and Schizophrenia, although a righteous title, I do wonder if a more proper name for Quadrophenia (1979) might be Dichotomy as the film focuses on the sound and the insanity of a certain segment of 1960s British youth culture, specifically a certain Mod named Jimmy Cooper (Daniels), trying so hard to be different by striving to conform.


Now, I probably need to back up and give a brief history lesson on the conflict between the Mods and the Rockers (-- think Sharks and Jets or The Beachniks and Eric Von Zipper), which serves as a focal point for both the movie and the rock opera on which it was based:


Both rebellious subcultures can be traced back to the Teddy Boy movement of the 1950s, glued together by disillusionment, vintage dress and rock 'n' roll. The Rockers stayed more grounded in the '50s, decked in leather and greased-up pompadours, clinging to the rockabilly of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent, herded around on motorcycles, and, like their equally hard-drinking American biker-gang counterparts, had no desire to be sober or to work -- or bathe. The new Mods, on the other hand, were clean-cut and fashionable to a fetishistic fault; they had jobs, embraced the newer, domestic music of The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, and subscribed to a better living through chemistry, with amphetamines and diet pills being the drugs of choice.


And like with all evolution, there was resistance to change by what came before, which was equally met by an extinction-level attempt to stomp out the old to make way for the new. And then this simmering animosity reached an epoch in the spring of 1964, when massive riots broke out over a banker's holiday weekend in several coastal cities (Hastings, Margate, Clacton and Brighton) as the rival factions clashed with the public and the police caught in the middle. And as what came to be known as The Second Battle of Hastings became a national disgrace, a 'moral panic' erupted against everyone under 30, causing a backlash against both movements.


Forged over this volatile atmosphere, it was around this time that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon formed The Who. Eight years later in 1972, "Quadrophenia", inspired by the very same Mod movement and the riots in Brighton, was released as their follow-up concept album to "Tommy." And ironically enough, the film version was also an answer to the film adaptation of Tommy. Not happy with Ken Russell's visual lunacy on the former, the band, who all served as producers for Quadrophenia, wanted the follow up film to be more grounded and less concerned with international appeal. Thus, with their blessing, first time director Franc Roddam pushed the album to the background, using it as an ersatz balladeer as Jimmy's tale progresses.


A full-blown zealot when it comes to the Mod way of life, this causes even more friction in his already highly dysfunctional home-life and dead-end job. On top of all the pill-popping, felonious theft, assaults, and scooter-cruising, our boy is also rabidly pursuing a girl, Steph (Ash), causing an already mercurial Jimmy to be even more violent and self-destructive in an attempt to impress her. But in this blind pursuit, his brash acts mostly result in a kind of self-sabotage that alienates him from everyone -- even his fellow mods. It's also setting himself up for a mighty big fall from a startling reality check. For what starts as a celebration of this lifestyle and an escape from reality in the form of a quest for some sense of identity, a sense of one’s own self, it slowly morphs into a fairly scathing indictment on the folly of such pursuits.


Daniels is amazing in the lead role; a flailing frenzy of raging hormones, contradictions (all the scenes with his old mate, a Rocker, are just heartbreaking), and no inhibitions. And if I have one beef, but it's a minor one, I wish the other characters in his orbit were given a little bit more room to breathe and achieve his level. They're good. But they could've been great. The only one who comes close is Sting as the ultimate mod, Ace, who Jimmy both idolizes and reviles as he moves in on his equally infatuated girl. All of this, then, really reaches a climax for Jimmy (and the audience) during those riots, when the police arrive and Jimmy and Steph find refuge in an isolated alley, where a combination of excitement and adrenaline finds them having sex against a brick-wall as the city is trashed around them. A truly remarkable scene; a pure fusion of visuals and soundtrack. The film has several of these moments, actually; all just as equally amazing.


But in the aftermath of this triumph, Jimmy loses everything: the girl (their brief affair was just a giggle, she says), his freedom (he gets arrested), his friends, his job, his home, and his beloved scooter. But the true breaking point comes when a completely drug-addled Jimmy returns to Brighton to try and re-light the fire, so to speak, only to find he's been worshiping a false idol all along. Now completely lost, with no identity left, Jimmy steals Ace the bell-boy's scooter and races it suicidally close to the cliffs of Dover, with The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" pulsing right along with him. Truly amazing.


I honestly thought Jimmy pulled a Thelma and Louise there at the end and it took three rewinds to see what really happened. And honestly, I'm still not sure. Needless to say, the Vespa didn't make it. As for Jimmy? Well, it's kind of ambiguous and I'll leave it that. I also cannot recommend this film enough. Aside from The Who, the rest of the soundtrack is just as amazing. Injecting it all into the film, alchemist Roddam achieves a true sense of vérité, capturing a time and place, and giving the audience a sense of full immersion into this world of alienation, sex, violence, and rock 'n' roll.
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“Roddam had done a remarkable job recreating the world of the Mods and Rockers; dark, wet London streets, empty but for the herds of Mods on Italian scooters or Rockers on heavy cycles thundering past in search of a rumble; dingy, sweat-filled clubs, where the local bands further turn on horny pill-popping dancers with loud, throbbing music; greasy diners; pinball joints; back alleys; dance halls; the outskirts of towns where lookalike house stand in a sorry line; Brighton, a breath of fresh air, the only sunlight. And everywhere you go is music – driving, liberating music.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXxxxxxxxxxXXXXXXX-- Danny Peary
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The Fine Print: Quadrophenia was watched via Hulu's streaming package. Watched as a Teenage Rampage double-feature with Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979). What's the Cult Movie Project? That's 17 down, with 183 to go.


Quadrophenia (1979) The Who Films :: Polytel :: World Northal / EP: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, John Peverall, David Gideon Thomson, Pete Townshend / P: Roy Baird, Bill Curbishley / D: Franc Roddam / W: Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, Franc Roddam, Pete Townshend / C: Brian Tufano / E: Sean Barton, Mike Taylor / M: Mike Shaw / S: Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Philip Davis, Mark Wingett, Toyah Willcox, Sting

2 comments:

Randy Monk said...

I always thought the major problem with 'QUAD' was timimg. Looking back 30+ years it doesn't really matter, but in '79 it seemed very dated. You have a movie debuting in a major punk year that chronicles an album released in October '73 concerning events that happen in 1965. Looking at my personal rear view mirror, and being a fan of the album, and a major major fan of The Who, I was less than enamored of the film, I haven't seen this since its release, maybe now would be a good time to reaccess it.

W.B. Kelso said...

Oh, man, there are a least dozen movies that I've seen that did not work when released but I have come to appreciate and champion. (Buckaroo Banzai immediately springs to mind.) This was a first time viewing for me and I really, really, really liked it a lot. The music was great and the director really did give you a sense of time and place. If you have Hulu, it's streaming as part of the Criterion collection and I think it's definitely worth another spin.

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