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Although it’s inspired by a legendary Who album that the band will perform on tour starting in November, Franc Roddam’s 1979 Quadrophenia (Criterion, $39.95 Blu-ray; $29.95 DVD; Aug. 28) is not about The Who. It’s a moody period drama, as obsessively detailed as Almost Famous, about 1964’s English youth scene. It vividly re-creates a time when leather-clad, motorcycle-riding Rocker kids fought natty, amphetamine-popping Mods who rode Italian scooters the Rockers called “hair dryers.” Like Quadrophenia‘s wasted teenage hero Jimmy (Phil Daniels), the Mods idolized The Who and the other Top 40 groups who appear on the excellent soundtrack overseen by bassist John Entwistle. The film, rescued from audio and visual murk by Criterion’s digital restoration, restages the famous Brighton Riot, where 25,000 Mods and Rockers did bloody battle.
The film was shot in the heyday of punk and vibrates with irreverent energy. Johnny Rotten was supposed to play a role, but insurance companies (or possibly Johnny’s refusal to be in a Pete Townshend fantasy) kiboshed this plan. When one kid tried to quit before a crucial scene, Roddam won him back by giving him the stained shirt Rotten wore when Sid Vicious attacked him with an ax. One scene was shot in a punk club where kids often dove off the balcony to the dance floor. So Roddam had Jimmy do the same to impress a “bird” (Leslie Ash, resembling a young Meg Ryan).
Sting plays the top Mod, cruel, cool Ace Face. “He had not yet released an album,” says Roddam on the lively commentary track. “The boy did well.” The on-set interview with Sting, nervously twisting a ring on his finger, is priceless. Another future famous face is Rocker Kevin (Ray Winstone of The Departed).
Roddam needed no director’s chair on the set because he was in constant motion, choreographing tracking shots of bikers and kids wandering through streets and clubs (along paths chalk-marked on the floor).
As usual, Criterion’s extras are great, including a 1960s documentary featuring The Who performing at a club and a 1979 interview with Roger Daltrey. Roddam recalls that Keith Moon, flanked by a reputedly murderous bodyguard, demanded to co-direct the film. “OK, if I can drum on the next Who album,” said Roddam. It’s a good thing Moon backed off. As The Who felt and you might agree, Quadrophenia keeps perfect time.
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