Quadrophenia: Criterion Collection
September 11, 2012
Based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name, Quadrophenia (1979) is a gritty snapshot of British street culture at its rawest. Set in the early 1960s, the film chronicles the violent rivalry between two gangs – the scooter-driving Mods and the motorcycle-riding Rockers – that, for most of the film, is kept under a barely-containable simmer that gradually threatens to boil over in the streets of Brighton. It proved to be a hugely influential film in England, inspiring kitchen sink realist directors like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
We meet Jimmy (Daniels), a mod driving his scooter through the streets while The Who’s “The Real Me” blasts over the soundtrack. En route to a local hangout, he’s briefly hassled by a gang of rockers on their motorcycles, setting up right from the get-go the antagonistic relationship between these two factions. We are quickly immersed in his world courtesy of the sights and sounds of a nightclub that he and his friends frequent.
Jimmy eyes Steph (Ash), a cute girl he fancies while a band plays classic rhythm and blues in the background. When he’s not getting his suit custom tailored, he pops pills and crashes house parties with his mates while vintage Motown tunes play on the stereo. This is soon replaced by the song, “My Generation” by The Who, which he and his friends dance to with wild abandon. He’s also good friends with Kevin (Winstone), a guy who may look like a rocker but doesn’t care about labels like, “Mods” and “Rockers,” arguing that everyone is basically the same, while Jimmy says that he wants to be different.
Quadrophenia eschews a traditional narrative for a character-driven approach that examines a youth subculture from the ‘60s. Jimmy and his young friends live for the present, indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – the rites of passage for every generation since the 1950s. His parents don’t understand him and even he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life – issues that all youths wrestle with at some point.
Director Franc Roddam does an excellent job of conveying the youthful energy of Jimmy and his friends as they burn the candle at both ends, embodying the iconic Who lyric, “hope I die before I get old.” It helps that the director uses several of their songs to punctuate certain key moments in the film for maximum effect, giving Quadrophenia an almost epic quality – the visual representation of The Who’s rock opera. This film, along with a wave of British ska bands, like The Specials and The Beat, helped bring back Mod culture in a big way during the early 1980s. Quadrophenia has stood the test of time and serves as a fascinating window into a ‘60s youth subculture that reflected their frustrations and rebellious spirit.
Quadrophenia has never looked better on this top notch Blu-Ray transfer. The print is pristine yet still retains the texture of film. The all new 5.1 surround mix is a revelation as the Who’s music comes through loud and clearer than ever before.
There is an audio commentary by director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano. Both men start off by briefly explaining how they got the job and how the low budget contributed to the gritty look of Quadrophenia. Tufano talks about the kinds of lenses he used and how and why he lit certain scenes they way he did. Roddam held lengthy rehearsal periods and encouraged improvisation from his cast, making changes to the screenplay.
Also included are two trailers.
There is a segment from Talking Pictures, a BBC television series that aired just before the film was released. There is some nice behind-the-scenes footage of filming. We see extras getting groomed for the ‘60s look of the film. A young Sting talks briefly about his character and look in the film. The Who’s Roger Daltrey speaks eloquently about the music used in the film.
“Sept Jours du Monde” is a segment from a French T.V. news show that aired in 1964. It takes a look at the Mods and Rockers, explaining who they are while also featuring interviews with various people from both groups.
“Seize Millions de Jeunes: ‘Mods’” is an episode of a French T.V. show that aired in 1965 and focused on youth culture. Among the interviewees is a young Pete Townsend with great footage of The Who in action.
There is an interview with Bill Curbishley, co-producer of the film and manager of The Who. He explains that along with Daltrey and Townsend, they were interested in film with the lead singer appearing in the adaptation of Tommy (1975). Curbishley takes us through the origins of Quadrophenia and explains where the title came from.
Finally, there is an interview with Bob Pridden, The Who’s sound engineer and who created the new 5.1 surround mix of the music in the film. He takes us through the process, comparing the poor condition of the film before and what it sounds and looks like after the restoration. He talks about how they recorded the album back in the day.