Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who Review
There's a particular problem faced by anyone writing or visually documenting the life and career of a long-running musician or band and that is what to do with them once the hits dry up, the albums no longer chart or they settle into a life of domestic contentment in a ranch in Arizona. Almost anything you might care to watch on The Rolling Stones finds itself wandering about the bike sheds kicking a can with an almost visible disinterest regarding the years between the release of Exile On Main Street and the enormo-tours of the nineties, with only Keef's drugs bust to spice things up. A documentary on Iggy Pop will find itself a little lost for words and comment when dealing with his life outside of The Stooges and the Berlin/Bowie years. The post-Morrison Doors are dealt with rather harshly - although, to be fair, they ought to be - while we should pity the poor old Velvet Underground, who recorded four studio albums and a couple of live albums during their lifetime but whose stories tail off after the release of their first. Even their official biography, Uptight, is somewhat at a loss to do very much about The Velvet Underground or Loaded having spent two-thirds of its length discussing the Warhol years.
It's always been the way with The Who, features on whom tend to cover four eras of the band's life, usually in this order: formation, My Generation, Tommy and the death of Keith Moon. If it's a recently-produced documentary, this might include the death of John Entwhistle and Pete Townshend's arrest for downloading child pornography but what they will never include is Who's Next, Lifehouse, The Who By Numbers or any of the later albums. Meher Baba, an important part of Townshend's creative life and inspiration for the title of Baba O'Riley, will be laughed off with a kind of bemusement, similar to The Beatles' time in India, while the viewers will learn more about the average night out with Keith Moon than they ever will Quadrophenia.
So I feel like celebrating Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who. There are still omissions but what's more important is what's been included. No longer does the story stop with the release of Tommy, only for a last-gasp tale of the excesses in the life of Keith Moon but carries on into the abandoned Lifehouse project, the recording of Quadrophenia, the chaotic tour of that album and the arrival of punk. Even Face Dances and It's Hard get a mention, which is probably a first as regards any documentary on The Who. Moon's life and death is given much less focus than it was in The Kids Are Alright and with interviews with Townshend, Daltrey and even Moon's sister, it's no longer a tale of a crazy drunk driving Rollers into swimming pools. Instead, you have Townshend, who still admits to guilt at not doing more to save Moon, leading a chorus of voices who still miss Moon to this day. I was smiling right from the opening salvo of songs, live performances and archive footage and did so throughout, finally recognising a documentary that does The Who proud.
Told in a series of chapters, each one of which is named after a line from a Who song, Amazing Journey begins with Townshend and Entwhistle meeting at school, the latter bumping into Daltrey outside of a sheet metal factory and Entwhistle then bringing Townshend with him in joining Daltrey's band, The Detours. With Moon showing up at a gig to tell the onstage Daltrey that he was a better drummer than the one they had, The Who were formed. Or thereabouts, as there was still The Detours, The Who and then The High Numbers before going back to The Who once again. The film really delivers in these pre- and early-Who years. Archive footage and photographs of the band are shown, including a couple of very early gigs when they played under The High Numbers before the guitar chord that opens I Can't Explain rings the changes to the band's fortunes.
From there, the story of The Who was televised, featured in the movies and had films made around their rock operas. Amazing Journey creeps into this with a very basic animation to accompany A Quick One but it's The Who at Monterey and at Woodstock that is most memorable, their early shyness from Ready Steady Go! and Top Of The Pops giving way to drum kits packed with explosives, psychedelic light shows and breathtaking performances of Tommy. The suits, clean cut hair and three-minute singles were replaced by Townshend's Union Flag jacket, Fishtail parkas and Fred Perry shirts. And then they really find themselves, musically as well as with their image. Townshend dresses in the white boiler suits of Burgess' Droogs, Moon wears whatever he can pull out of the fancy dress box and Daltrey grows his hair and goes bare-chested underneath a tasseled leather jacket. They look and sound incredible now, God knows the impression they made in 1967 when the were louder than a jumbo during take-off, trashed their instruments and were wound into the groove tighter than a spring. See Me Feel Me as played at Woodstock is so good that it almost guarantees The Who's reputation on its own. Townshend had kicked Abbie Hoffman off the stage earlier in the set - "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" - before they divorced See Me Feel Me from We're Not Gonna Take It and played it to a crowd of half a million as the sun rose on Woodstock.
Now at this point, most Who documentaries stop. Not so Amazing Journey, which goes from Woodstock and Tommy to the Lifehouse project, the story of which is that the band were so confused by the concept - an audience who could 'play' the band on stage via a pre-Internet Grid - that they walked away from it. Even now, Daltrey admits to not understanding Lifehouse but out of it came Who's Next, Townshend's use of synthesisers and the greatest screaming in rock in Won't Get Fooled Again. Then it's on to Quadrophenia, one of the four or five greatest albums and a love letter from Pete to the mods who followed the band in their early days. A breathtaking set of songs mix musical motifs, reference the Who's back catalogue, sample news reports of mods-against-rockers fights on Brighton Beach and come and go to the wash of the sea on the beach, Quadrophenia is The Who paying their dues to the mods but which also sounds timeless. Townshend is fully convinced that Quadrophenia is their crowning glory - "It is a magnificent piece of work...it's our towering triumph", is what he says here - and justifies Pete's belief in rock opera. They would never get better.
However, the tour was a disaster. Townshend and Daltrey were fighting in rehearsals, Moon was collapsing on the stage from whatever pre-show drugs he'd taken - "err...he's out cold...Can anybody play the drums?" Townshend asks the crowd from the stage after first subduing Moon and then watching him fall unconscious over his kit - and the music was too complex for the band to play. Thereafter, it's Moon in a gimp mask, driving a car into a swimming pool and starring as Uncle Ernie in the film of Tommy. And throughout, Daltrey, Entwhistle and Townshend try to keep their friend alive, often in spite of himself.
The story of The Who is often one told in terms of fist fights, of Townshend smacking Daltrey over the head with his guitar, of alcoholism and of a band who spent longer not talking to one another than they ever did together. But other than its welcome continuation of the Who story post-Tommy, it's clear in the interviews, archive footage and recorded concerts that they were often just friends. While Townshend became very rich on his royalties, Entwhistle, who kept on living the life of a rock star, accrued massive debts. Daltrey gave Townshend a call, who then agreed to bring The Who out of retirement to help pay off his friend's debts. In June 1996, The Who played Quadrophenia in Hyde Park. He would do the same again before Entwhistle's death, saying of his friend, "Without him, I wouldn't even be here!"
I, for one, am glad that he is. He's one of the most articulate rock stars, is very aware of his failings and of his successes and was always much quicker to praise his friends than to bask in the glory of The Who's success. He's leaped to the defence of Roger Daltrey in numerous interviews, has spoken more of his good memories of Keith Moon than the bad and admits to missing Entwhistle a great deal. He knows how faintly ridiculous being a rock star is, even to growing old, still playing guitar and watching two of his closest friends die. And in the end, Amazing Journey is Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey paying tribute to one another and closing this film onstage together, one thanking the other for his support during the recent trial and the other saying thank you for more than forty years of outstanding music. The Who finally have a documentary feature to honour that music.
Anamorphically presented in 1.85:1, Amazing Journey is a mix of archive footage from the sixties, seventies and eighties, archive interviews and conversations with the band recorded for this film. As such, Amazing Journey is a mix of different aspect ratios, film stock, video, stills and home movies but it has generally been brought together very well for this DVD. The feature concerts of the late-sixties, such as Monterey Pop and Woodstock, still look great, with much more detail than any other part of the film but the state of the video recordings come and go. Some are fine but others are clearly shot on camcorders, some suffer from the trailing images of spotlights while others are behind-the-scenes shots of the band in the studio and backstage.
Amazing Journey, though with moments that look and sound wonderful, is inconsistent, with its greatest failing in the picture being the poor presentation of recent interviews with Townshend and Daltrey. Generally, the DD5.1 audio is excellent but there's a clear lack of lip synch in one of the interviews with Townshend. Otherwise, the soundtrack is fine and the music presentation is fantastic but that one problem with lip synch leaves the audience looking for more problems than actually exist in the film. Finally, there are no subtitles.
Six Quick Ones (88m19s): These are a set of six short features, which concentrate on each member of The Who - Roger (16m01s), John (7m39s), Pete (18m30s) and Keith (9m52s) - as well as two on the band, Who Art You? (9m24s) and Who's Back (26m55s). The first of these is the post-war influence of art schools on rock music while the second is a documentary account of The Who in Eel Pie Studios recording Real Good Looking Boy. There are some wonderful moments in these, including Pete demonstrating just how unattractive it is to see a man playing a bass sitting too high on his chest, Roger sounding quiet and thoughtful when talking about the music he listened to in his youth and Pete windmilling a Les Paul. Townshend's feature is, unsurprisingly, the most interesting of the six with The Edge, Eddie Vedder and his brother Simon all paying tribute to the guitarist.
Scrapbook (21m34s): Once again, this is a series of five short features, beginning with Bill Curbishley's memories of a dinner with a Keith Moon with eighteen Margaritas inside him, a conversation with record producer Shel Talmy and the legal fallout that happened following the signing of their first contract and Pete's writing of Won't Get Fooled Again. This is followed by a short feature on the tragedy in Cincinnati when eleven people were trampled to death at a Who concert and, finally, an interview with Noel Gallagher on the subject of playing with The Who at the Royal Albert Hall.
The High Numbers (7m52s): In 1964, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp planned on making a film about a mod band, The High Numbers, filming them at the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone. Clips of this are seen throughout Amazing Journey but this presents the band onstage in what little footage remains of the concert. The music is very much of its time with there being little suggestion of what would follow with The Who but Daltrey is clearly a cut above the average pub-band singer, as is Moon's drumming. He was great even then.