Quadrophenia is a fascinating film because it captures two moments of history with some skill. On the one hand, it evokes the early 1960s clashes between Mods and Rockers on the beaches of Southern Britain - and, equally well, the soul-destroying conformity and mediocrity of suburban life which was one of the reasons for the youth uprising in the first place. On the other, it seems to be just as relevant to the time it was made - a late seventies Britain, hurtling into recession and mass unemployment. where teenagers felt just as alienated as those depicted in the film.
The narrative - the weakest aspect of the film - concerns Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a post-boy in an advertising agency who lives for his scooter, British rock music and his mates. His identity is defined by the group he belongs to, the Mods, and, negatively, by his difference from the other youth cult of the period, the Rockers. The first half of the film follows him as he attempts to entice Steph (Leslie Ash) away from her flash boyfriend and onto the back of his scooter. We see him at home with his uncomprehending parents, at work with the middle aged executives who ignore him, and at play with his friends in coffee bars and gatecrashing parties. It's a wonderful evocation of a time and place, brilliantly performed by the cast, most of whom were relative newcomers. Phil Daniels is outstanding in the central role, managing to combine a charismatic presence with an edge of unnerving madness, which eventually erupts in the conclusion. Basically, he's adrift in a world which only makes sense from moment to moment in a series of sensations, but which doesn't seem to have any greater meaning or purpose.
The second half of the film takes Jimmy and his gang to Brighton on Bank Holiday weekend, as the Mods fight with the Rockers. This set-piece is very well directed by Franc Roddam - a director whose career never really got going - and has an immediacy which is reminiscent of the gang fight in Philip Kaufman's surprisingly similar The Wanderers. Sadly, this highpoint is followed by a forty minute coda, as Jimmy is arrested, loses his job and his mates and becomes disillusioned with everything, leading to a conclusion which is memorable but terribly pretentious. To be fair, that was the case with the original album by The Who which inspired the film. It should be said that the plot is the least interesting thing about the film, and is easily overlooked in the face of so many energetic performances and vibrant individual scenes.
Apart from Daniels, whose performance is essential to the sccess of the film, the cast works very hard and is obviously diving in to the fighting with alacrity. Mark Wingett is very convincing as the irritatingly loud Dave whose betrayal of Jimmy is a key moment in the film, and Philip Davies, a favourite actor of mine, is hilarious as the hapless Chalky. Sting turns up to add his powerful presence - thankfully he doesn't sing and isn't called upon to speak very much. I also liked Leslie Ash as Steph, since she convincingly changes from high-spirited flirtation to vindictiveness. Michael Elphick is also a delight as Jimmy's father, trying and failing to connect with his son.
As I have indicated, I have reservations about the attempts the film makes to be profound - it's not actually saying very much about teenage angst that hasn't been said in a thousand other films, and what it says is hardly what you might call subtle. However, the clarity of its portrait of a time and place is impressive, and this makes it emotionally affecting, even though it might occasionally be unintentionally amusing. So, the final scenes, for example, are clearly idiotic but also, oddly, memorable. Roddam's direction is mostly efficient rather than inspired, but he handles the violent fights very well, and the work of Brian Tufano means that the film always looks impressive. That opening shot is particularly impressive.
The Who's original "rock opera" album provides most of the music, and it's mostly good stuff. Admittedly, it isn't up to the standard of "Tommy", but it's still the last thing of any real significance the group managed to produce. Lots of synthesisers and anguished wailing from Roger Daltrey, and a disappointing lack of humour compared to "Tommy", which had some comic relief to balance the more depressing aspects. At its best, it adds power to the images, and at its worst it is still efficient. Thankfully, there's not too much hideous literalism - the curse which managed to scupper Alan Parker's ludicrously overheated Pink Floyd The Wall from the start.
Quadrophenia was one of the must-see movies of 1979, and seeing it almost exactly twenty one years on is an odd experience. It's not as viscerally exciting as it was when I saw it at the ABC in Wakefield - an experience enhanced by the constant threat of violence in the cinema itself - but it is a lot more convincing and less dated than I had expected.
This is a no-frills release from Universal, and the technical quality of the disc is distinctly disappointing.
The picture is 4:3 only, but as there is no cropping or pan/scan, I think it's fair to assume that the film was originally shot full frame. It doesn't look all that good though. It's sharp enough, certainly, and there is good contrast throughout, but we also get constant grain throughout the film, and some annoying artifacting in places. Some scenes look better than others, but overally it's a bit flat, which is vague I know, but there's no real vitality to the image. It's a step-up from VHS, but not much more than that.
The sound is equally flat. I'm currently listening to the album and the music is gorgeously rich and involving. Nothing like that on the DVD though - it just sounds muddy without sufficient range. The stereo sound is well used in places, with some separations on dialogue and incidental music. The film was originally shot in Dolby Stereo, but it's not a very impressive transfer to disc. Dialogue is clear throughout, but I felt let down by this soundtrack, which I'm sure could have been much better.
We get one extra. It's called a featurette on screen, but it's actually a montage of photographs from the production of the film, none of them all that interesting. It is backed by the music, and accompanied by some quotes from the cast. Reasonably diverting to watch, but to be honest I would have preferred to see the original theatrical trailer. Better still, what about the re-release trailer for the 1980 double bill with Scum, which I vividly remember being deliriously over the top.
Quadrophenia is definitely a film worth seeing, especially if you were too young to get into the cinema to see it at the time and hung around outside the cinema looking at the poster with the cast and the tagline, "A Way of Life". But this DVD release is hard to recommend, since it offers very little in the way of either technical quality or extra materials.