Sunday, 19 November 2006

Quadrophenia (Special Edition) (1979)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 10th August 2006.

Quadrophenia (Special Edition)It's scary to think that it's nearly 30 years since I went to see Quadrophenia at the cinema when it was first theatrically released. At the time punk was winding down, but the film-makers cleverly roped in a 'new wave' star to try and attract an audience that would have otherwise had no interest in going to see a film about 'mods and rockers', or old fart Pete Townshend, who'd written this ode to the 60's, originally as a rock opera for his group The Who.

I hadn't enjoyed the movie on original release. Sting, the afore-mentioned 'new wave' star, had a very minor role that was strictly of the 'no acting required' variety. The language was all four-letter words, and, I felt, needlessly promoted nihilistic violence, drug taking, profanity and aggression. Plus there didn't seem to be any real story to the whole mess. It felt like continual improv, with no 'proper' story. I guess I can't have been paying too much attention!

27 years later, I like the film more, and it's not hard to see why the marketing folk are able to bandy about words like 'classic', without fear of intervention by the Advertising Standards Authority. The film was, in many ways, ahead of its time - at least in terms of the language, the nudity (which the directory jokingly refers to as his 'Brokeback moment' in the accompanying commentary), and the cinema verite style used throughout.

Admittedly all the things I disliked about the film when originally released are still there, but the message underlying the whole thing is that the hero only really grows up when he decides not to conform to the stereotypes he sees all around him. The acting performances, if that's what they are (really this is just a group of young working class hooligans given certain scenarios in which to improvise their own behaviour), have a documentary-style reality to them, and Phil Daniels is outstanding in the lead, although the punk fan in me can't help wondering what the movie would have been like with the original first choice for the lead role: Johnny Rotten had to be 'let go' because the insurance companies wouldn't touch him, after all the bad Sex Pistols publicity). Many now-familiar TV faces (mainly from East Enders or The Bill) crop up in minor roles and Ray Winstone shows he could act even back then, albeit in a role that I'd like to have seen more of. Although this is essentially a working class 'coming of age' story set in 1964, it feels as relevant today as in the time it's set - just replace 'mod' with 'hoodie' and you're there!

The film was originally released on DVD back in 1999, in a terrible transfer that looked like a bad VHS copy. This new Special Edition corrects all the shortcomings of that original release, and contains some interesting 'looking back' features. The commentary, featuring first-time director Frank Roddam and lead actor Phil Daniels is interesting, if a little bit too 'old mates reminiscing down the pub' at times. Leslie Ash, who plays the girl that Daniels' character falls in love with, participates too, although it's obvious her comments were recorded separately and have been spliced into the main track. An hour long 'Looking Back' featurette has several of the cast (including Daniels and Toyah Wilcox, but not Sting or Ray Winstone and the director reminiscing about the film, their involvement and its initial reception, with tales of on-set debauchery and the difficulties of making a low-budget film almost entirely in real locations. A 10-15 minute 'On Location' featurette contrasts the locations that were used as they looked in 1979 with how they look today, and is an interesting diversion for those of us who live in London. Full marks for not only packaging the case in a deluxe cardboard sleeve, but also providing a booklet, whilst keeping the price low - you see, it CAN be done!

This is not a film that will be to everyone's tastes, but for those of us on the periphery of a similar drug/music culture that went through a similar experience when young, it makes for nostalgic viewing. Writer Pete Townshend describes Quadrophenia as "a universal story [where 'mod' is] a shorter word for 'young, beautiful and stupid' - we've all been there", and indeed we have. Well worth a viewing if you're not squeamish about drugs, violence and nudity.

Quadrophenia screencap

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