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Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- It goes without saying that "Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who" hopes to be experienced through the wall-to-wall sound system of a modern movie theater. Happily, it offers enough kicks to justify shelling out for a ticket -- which, after all, is a tiny fraction of what it costs to see them live -- and should draw a fair number of fans to the boxoffice before a profitable DVD release.

Though hardly revelatory for longtime followers, the pic gathers a wealth of live performances -- from a small club set dating back to their short incarnation as the High Numbers through a gig from earlier this year -- to keep the faithful entertained. For younger fans, the two-hour running time is fleshed out with a straightforward recap of the group's career.

Moving at a brisk pace without skimping on details, "Journey" starts in war-ravaged London (noting that Pete Townshend was born the hour of Nazi architect Albert Speer's arrest) and lays out the skiffle-band pop scene that encouraged young Roger Daltrey to believe playing music for money was a realistic ambition.

The tale progresses from the formation of the Detours through the fateful arrival of an orange-haired (thanks to a botched, Beach Boys-inspired peroxide job), puppy-dog-eyed drummer named Keith Moon. Taking occasional stops for awestruck testimonials from later stars like Sting and U2's Edge, the docu also reveals that the bandmates themselves can barely hide their self-regard: Daltrey marvels that, in a world of billions, four "total individuals" should find each other; Townshend at one point admits "Keith was a genius, John was a genius, I was certainly on the edge of it ... Roger was a singer."

Making lively use of vintage photos and a film-as-double-LP structural conceit, the movie hustles through the development of the group's sound, the influence of Pete Meaden (who crucially aligned the musicians with the Mod scene), the high-art influences behind Townshend's famous guitar-destroying stage antics, and the development of the "rock opera" concept.

Entertaining bits of trivia -- worries about labelmate Jimi Hendrix stealing Townshend's moves, an ill-fated tour opening for teenybopper faves Herman's Hermits -- pepper the bigger narrative, which plays like a continuing quest in which, as songwriter and conceptualist, Townshend is continually expected to outdo his last stroke of genius.

"Amazing Journey" is an authorized portrait, benefiting from ample new interviews with Daltrey and Townshend. If the surviving bandmates don't wallow in unhappy chapters of the band's tale, they also don't pretend they don't exist: We see plenty about Moon's misbehavior, hear a brief acknowledgement that John Entwistle's death was something a man his age should have been able to avoid, and get a glimpse at (if hardly an investigation of) the accusations that Townshend was involved with child pornography. The latter issue in particular is mainly an opportunity for us to hear how the two surviving bandmates have grown closer through adversity.

Leaving viewers on a "to be continued" vibe, the doc presents the reconstituted Who, now in its fifth decade, as a unit that will continue indefinitely. "Amazing Journey" is an enjoyable enough primer that it may nurture fans to support the rockers in their old age.

AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO
Universal Pictures
Spitfire Pictures
Credits:
Directors: Paul Crowder, Murray Lerner
Writer: Mark Monroe
Producers: Robert Rosenberg, Nigel Sinclair
Executive producers: Bill Curbishley, Guy East
Editors: Paul Crowder, Pagan Harleman, David Zieff
Running time -- 120 minutes
No MPAA rating