Sting's the Ace Face, Coolest Mod of All!
No surprise, really!
Here's your Greg Klymkiw Christmas Gift Suggestion #3 for 2012. It's the magnificent Criterion Collection - Director Approved Blu-Ray (or, if you must, DVD) of Franc Roddam's classic dramatic realization of the rock opera by The Who. This magnificent Criterion release includes a newly restored digital transfer supervised by cinematographer Brian Tufano which retains the vibrant, varied palette of colours, the glorious grain, the deep natural blacks and the blasts of night exterior practical lighting. Included is the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack and for audiophiles and cinephiles alike, a brand new 5.1 surround mix supervised by the Who and on the Blu-Ray, it's presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. The bonus treat includes a superb commentary track with director Franc Roddam and D.P. Brian Tufano - one of the best commentaries I've ever heard - replete with clear details of the filmmaking process and married to the picture with considerable skill. Another great bonus is a 1979 segment from the legendary BBC TV series "Talking Pictures" with excellent interviews and behind-the-scenes footage - SHOT ON FILM!!!!! As if this wasn't enough, you also get a wonderful segment from a 1964 episode of the French news program "Sept jours du monde" that focuses on the phenomenon of mods and rockers AND a very cool 1965 episode of the French youth-culture program "Seize millions de jeunes: Mods” that includes some of the earliest footage of The Who. There's also the usual Criterion assortment of additional interviews, an audio restoration demonstration, trailers and a lovely booklet that includes a critical essay, a personal history by the "original" mod Irish Jack and Pete Townshend’s legendary liner notes from the 1973 album by The Who. Not only a stellar package, but easily one of the top Blu-Ray releases of 2012.
LOVE in LONDON on a LAMBRETTA
Can you see, the Real Me?
Can you? Can you?
Quadrophenia (1979) Dir. Franc Roddam *****
Phil Daniels, Sting,
Ray Winstone, Leslie Ash,
Michael Elphick, Kate Williams,
Phillip Davis, Mark Wingett,
Gary Shail, Garry Cooper,
Toyak Wilcox, Trevor Laird,
John Bindon, Timothy Spall
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Franc Roddam's extraordinary film adaptation of Quadrophenia, the legendary rock opera by The Who, was unleashed theatrically over thirty years ago. Great movies never die, never date, never spoil, but do, in fact, get richer with each viewing and every passing year. Happily, Roddam's fictional rendering of the clashes between the Mods and Rockers, two ultra-cool youth subcultures of the early 1960s, blasts off the screen with the same unyielding force that it did in 1979. In my books, it's more than earned bonafide masterpiece status.
The writing by Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman and director Roddam yields, in the best collaborative tradition of cinema, a straightforward, but strong narrative that springboards from the emblematic music and Pete Townsend's dazzling liner notes on The Who's original album. Dialogue sizzles on a skillet, like pork bellies in an ocean of rich, heavily-salted butter, leaping with abandon into the mouths of the film's actors who, in turn, volley the finely foul, flavour-drenched, crepitating poetry of London's dirty, drizzle-drenched streets of the early 60s with the same force Martin Scorsese and Mardick Martin's writing did for New York's Little Italy in Mean Streets. Adding to the screenplay's savoury (or to some, unsavoury) broth is the wide array of vivid characters etched onto the compelling tale of youthful rebellion, camaraderie and disillusionment.
The writing is an ideal blueprint for director Roddam to take a running leap into a chasm of stylistically adventuresome helmsmanship - rendering a movie for the ages. Applying a documentary sensibility to the proceedings, Roddam creates a great picture that bristles with life itself against an exciting backdrop and a solid narrative backbone.
Jimmy (Phil Daniels), our decidedly uncharacteristic hero, works a dead-end job as a mail-boy, shuffling through labyrinthine corridors of an upscale advertising agency with all the excitement of a George Romero zombie bereft of even the desire to eat human flesh. In the evenings, he returns to his working class home wherein a harridan mother (Kate Williams) and abusive alcoholic father (Michael Elphick) harangue him over a lack of ambition and his lazy, hedonistic "carryings-on". Even his sister (Kim Neve), a Sirenian subungulate who spends endless hours lolling under a sunlamp is quick to condemn Jimmy's interests and lifestyle (which essentially boil down to The Who and partying).
He finds hi only real sense of family, of belonging, of being his own person within the Mod lifestyle, a hyper-snazzy youth culture devoted to impeccable fashion: suit jackets, thin ties, painted-on jeans, The Who ('natch), riding about on gloriously ornate Italian scooters and, of course, all the parties, pills and fellowship amongst like-minded scene-sters. There's also the shared rivalry Mods have with Rockers, the old style be-bop-a-lula types with their uncool leather jackets, ape-like pompadours and cumbersome motorcycles.
Gang warfare based solely upon mutual hatred is par for the course.
Mostly though, being a Mod is a whole lot of fun.
Jimmy has his eye on the beautiful Steph (Leslie Ash) with her glorious alabaster pigmentation, straight burnt-orange-coloured hair and (if we're to believe the Austin Powers movies regarding British oral health) a shockingly winning smile. His Steph's a bit of a tease, mind you, so our Pete Townsend lookalike (Jimmy has a poster of Pete above his bed) will settle for a few gropes and french kisses with the spunky Monkey (Toyah Willcox), a saucy, little devil with short-cropped platinum blonde hair and a grand, giggling sense of humour (as opposed to the vapid ice-queen Steph).
Monkey pines for Jimmy. Jimmy pines for Steph.
Ain't it always the way?
What's really on everyone's mind, however, is the upcoming May long weekend festivities at the seaside resort Brighton and preparations include the simple, but arduous task of getting pills (amphetamines, to be precise). Twixt parties and more parties Jimmy and his mates embark upon an odyssey to score their mind-altering drug of choice - searching high and low for their main connection Ferdy (Trevor Laird), visiting Harry North (John Bindon), a slimy gangster who rips them off with wax capsules and in desperation, a furious late-night attempt to break into a pharmacy.
Amidst the booze-and-pill-fuelled revelry, Jimmy happens upon Kevin (Ray Winstone), a boyhood chum. Flabbergasted to find his old pal is - shudder - a Rocker, he tentatively renews a friendship that eventually seems to pickup where it left off.
And then, it's time for the holiday weekend in Brighton.
Joy is imminent.
Disillusionment is potentially not too far behind.
A classic coming of age tale is born.
Astoundingly, Roddam achieves what few directors have been able to do with similar material (especially contemporary directors). He indeed makes the familiar tale universal without pandering to ephemeral needs of both audience and marketplace (save for one bit of expert casting). He does it by skillfully remaining true to the period in which the film is set and the era from whence the original album originated.
Here's a movie, made in the late 70s about events that at the time, were already well over ten years past and had been forgotten by much of the world outside of the UK. The Who were huge, as were other stellar lights of the British Rock Invasion, but "Mod" had become more synonymous with London style (and swinging) than an entire youth culture as significant as either the punks or skinheads or, for that matter, the Beat Generation.
Even a great American picture like George Lucas's American Graffiti offered, to most, a quaintly genteel nostalgic rendering of "happier times" a mere ten years after the "Where Were You in '62?" generation lived lives similar to those depicted in the movie. Lucas's film was, of course, instilled with the undercurrents and portents of the Vietnam War, but most audiences tended to don blinders to these aspects of the picture.
Not so, with Roddam's film.
Quadrophenia is a film firmly divided between haves and have-nots, youthful abandon and the dull maturity of adulthood, Mods and Rockers (of course), but most importantly, a sense of rage and rebellion in a world that demands conformity, a world fixed in a class structure determined and decided by those with no interest in the needs and desires of youth. One of the most simple and powerful moments that illustrates both the divide between classes and age occurs in the lavatory of the ad agency Jimmy works in. Two pompous executives natter-on and preen themselves whilst a hung-over Jimmy wretches in a stall, stumbles out towards the sinks and splashes water on his face. Throughout the entire scene, neither executive acknowledges the presence of Jimmy and even when he stands between them at the mirrors, they look at each other through him as if he was invisible.
Indeed, to the "ruling" class, people like Jimmy are always invisible. For Jimmy's generation and subsequent generations just like him, raging against the machine might not be the best solution, but sometimes it seems like the only solution.
Breaking Records Everywhere.
Even in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
By 1979, young people from the tail end of the Baby Boom and on the cusp of the McJob Generation X were greeted with this equally nostalgia-drenched period piece that spoke directly to them, but rather than being a gentle reminder of how things were so much more simple "back then", Roddam's film was ingrained with violent energy and a cloud of disillusionment that gave even post-war disillusion a run for its money.
My own personal history with discovering the film was seeing it first-run in a packed-to-the-Gods 2000-seat picture-palace in Winnipeg and seeing it again and again and again - along with friends, colleagues and likeminded strangers. Punk and New Wave was raging amongst the youth culture of even this mid-western Canadian city surrounded by flat wheat fields in every direction. The picture sparked its own style revolution and spoke directly to young adults who frequented the punks bar and social events of this otherwise sleepy city. Of course when the film ended its surprisingly successful first run, I secured it for my own repertory cinema and played it incessantly at midnight shows and the like - to packed houses.
We lived as far away from London as one could imagine and certainly those of us who felt disenfranchised by our parents' generation and worse, those horrendous hogs-at-the-trough of the early-to-mid-baby-boom, embraced Quadrophenia as our own. Granted, Canada was, in fact, little more than a colonial remnant and was a country we grew up referring to as "The Dominion of Canada" and certainly in a city like Winnipeg, we were well aware of the province's unique history of rebellion against the old money WASPS in "Central" Canada.
This is a personal reminiscence, but illustrates how far reaching the film's grip on youth audiences actually went. People the world over - especially in English-speaking enclaves of the British Commonwealth - understood and identified with the plight of Mods and Rockers alike from a period of time over a decade old and in a film from a contemporary director who made a piece of Britain's youth history akin to our own.
Over the years, I've shown the film to younger generations and its power to thrill and move has not abated.
A lot of this, frankly, comes from Roddamn's brilliant work as a director. Though he casts his lens in verite fashion, he does so without the almost de rigueur shaky cam and sloppy non-lighting of the dogme-tistes of the late 90s and, even more offensive, the seemingly endless youth indie features from the last ten or so years (especially the wretched "mumble core" abominations).
Roddam, blessed with cinematographer Brian Tufano's first-rate lensing is, in fact, much closer to the Italian Neo-realist tradition - Vittorio DeSica in particular. Using deft compositions, elegant camera movement (not always flashy, but DRAMATICALLY effective) and an exquisite blend of practical lighting and just enough available light, the film paints a vivid, gritty portrait. The look never calls attention to itself save for when it's absolutely necessary in dramatic terms.
It's a rough-hewn classical approach that draws us in closer and/or presents a wide-eyed view to always place us squarely in the action of the story. When need be, we're fly-in-the-room viewers, following the action in long takes. Look, for example, to Jimmy's extraordinary entrance during the first party scene where the take appears to go on forever, but is so focused upon the dramatic action that we pretty much don't notice the camera work (unlike the numerous Scorsese/Goodfellas-inspired steadicam shots throughout the past 20 years).
To a certain extent, Roddam and Tufano even allow us to be participants in the dramatic action - look to some of the extraordinary shots during the Brighton riots sequence, or most evocatively, a scene where Jimmy and Steph, avoiding the cacophony of the riots, make out in a back-alley haven.
The casting and direction of the actors is so dead-on that again, we're reminded of DeSica's use of non-actors in dramatic roles. Phil Daniels as Jimmy was a complete revelation when Quadrophenia first appeared. His natural on-screen charisma was so strong that he lets us empathize and at times, even like a character who, at many moments, is downright obnoxious. Daniels here, was so tremendous, that lovers of BritPics across the pond scoured the movie ads for mention of his name and indeed, we thrilled to his occasional roles in works such as Scum, The Class of Miss MacMichael and Breaking Glass. (These days, after a successful stint as a rock musician, Daniels has become a prolific working actor on stage and screen. He even did the voice work on the Rat character in the popular animated film Chicken Run.)
Phil Daniels: Pete Townsend Surrogate "Jimmy"
Besides, the film has a marvelous piece of stunt casting that works perfectly. Sting as the Mod King, Ace Face, is cooler than cool. Not only that, but I suspect it was a role he strongly identified with - he himself came from modest lower middle class beginnings and worked odd jobs for years - not unlike the one Ace Face is revealed to have during the picture's climactic moments. As well, it wasn't just stunt casting - the camera always loved Sting. Also, given that The Police had just released their first album a few months before the film's release, it made perfect casting sense on both a marketing level - as well as an aesthetic one. Quadrophenia was, after all, a film that appealed to punks and new wavers who strongly identified with the Mods. Decades later, Sting is not only emblematic to several generations for his always cool music styling, but his genuine activism on behalf of the disenfranchised the world over.
Given Sting's own early class struggles, and in fact, one of the huge flaws within Britain's class system
The young actors playing The Mods all acquit themselves strongly with the naturalistic verve of non-actors (some were, some weren't) and in the only supporting role of any substance representing the Rockers is the very young, handsome and hunky Ray Winstone as Jimmy's old school chum. Winstone's performance, given the eventual fate of his character, is genuinely moving - especially in how he and his character poignantly offer a foreshadowing of the negative aspects of fake individuality through conformity and signalling, the beginning of the end for even Jimmy's character.
All the adult roles are filled out beautifully with a winning array of Britain's best character actors. Michael Elphick and Kate Williams as Jimmy's Dad and Mom share the qualities Phil Daniels is imbued with - playing seemingly reprehensible characters, but with enough in the way of balance and layering to breathe humanity in them. The late Elphick (who tragically died a few years ago from a heart attack related to his extremely debilitating alcoholism) was a regular on the EastEnders TV series, but for me, he'll remain etched as the foul night watchman in the hospital housing John Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man and here as the brutish, working class boozer, who below his gruff surface, just wants to understand his son.
The Late, Great Michael Elphick:
A Father's Love for his Son
I daresay the power of the film, what it hammers home so truthfully AND entertainingly is that thing we've all felt. Anyone who claims they've never wanted an answer to the question, "Can you see the real me?", is frankly, a liar.
I went back to the doctor To get another shrink. I sit and tell him about my weekend, But he never betrays what he thinks.
Can you see the real me, doctor?
I went back to my mother I said, "I'm crazy ma, help me." She said, "I know how it feels son, 'Cause it runs in the family."
Can you see the real me, mother?
The cracks between the paving stones Look like rivers of flowing veins. Strange people who know me Peeping from behind every window pane. The girl I used to love Lives in this yellow house. Yesterday she passed me by, She doesn't want to know me now.
Can you see the real me, can you?
I ended up with the preacher, Full of lies and hate, I seemed to scare him a little So he showed me to the golden gate.
Can you see the real me preacher? Can you see the real me doctor? Can you see the real me mother? Can you see the real me?
Most importantly, like Jimmy, as the film and Townsend's great song reveal, we all pose the question and need the answer, but ultimately, we neglect to pose the question and look for the answer in ourselves.
It's Jimmy's journey.
And it's one hell of a journey!