There is one thing wrong with Quadrophenia. One aspect which keeps it from remaining vital and resonant. And no, it’s not the Vespas. I’m talking about The Who.
I know, I know. They’re THE WHO. Obviously, if Pete Townshend wants to write songs about the now-incomprehensible clash between the Mods and the Rockers, who’s to deny him? I mean, who cares about the Mods and the Rockers when a fight can be touched off with a singing match between “Be-bop ba-lula” and “You Really Got Me”? What, exactly, is the ideological divide here? Can’t all you white working class pop-listening guys get along?
What saves this movie is not The Who singing songs neither of these groups would be listening to, especially since it takes place in 1964, but the filmmaking itself. The film is gorgeous. Drab English skies lower over wet cobblestone streets and cameras spin through p.o.v. pirouettes in alleyways. It lights on protagonist Jimmy’s rebel-without-a-cause face through coffee shop windows and in multiple motorbike mirrors. We may not understand what all the fuss is about, and it may seem obvious that these guys are sublimating their class conflict into pointless antagonism of others in the same boat, but filmgoers have a history of appreciating a young man’s search for meaning in a meaningless world. Even when that lack of meaning seems entirely self-imposed.
Although Jimmy seems to bring a lot of his problems on himself (or at least, we are denied knowledge of some root cause for them), Phil Daniels does an excellent job of making him almost sympathetic. His goofy cuteness goes a long way towards this. Sting has a memorable role with one line as mod idol Ace, and has commented that everyone pretty much played themselves. Combined with the camerawork, this makes for a nice, realistic movie that may not take us many places but definitely paints a picture of a certain class and time. Other than a speech Jimmy’s dad gives in an attempt to justify the title, the only false bit in this piece is Roger Daltry commenting on the action as it happens, as if we’re too stupid to see what’s going on in front of us. How much more effective would that last scene be if we weren’t being told that Jimmy’s tired of the fashion, and of acting tough, and all that? It’s like ending Thelma and Louise with someone shouting “We’re tired of running, yeah, in death we’ll be free, yeah, without any men, together you and me!!”
Hold on. I think I’m on to something here…