A Way of Life! I doubt that even in the boom time for mods and rockers during the early-to-mid-sixties it was much of a way of life. By 1979, the year in which Quadrophenia was released, it was even less so. Punk had come and gone and despite the disapproving chatter from the tabloids it had much less impact outside of the south-east than is commonly thought. There were still a scattering of mods and rockers, as were there teddy boys, but the age of an intense devotion to a teenage cult was passing. New Romantics were still to come but they, with the assistance of Wham!, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, were ushering in an era when music didn't matter quite so much as it once did.
The pop single became disposable once more and the youth cult made only occasional appearances thereafter, sometimes in the warehouse parties of the eighties and later in the boyband frenzy of Take That and the rock rivalries of Britpop but they were but brief asides in the failure of pop music to inspire as much devotion as it once did. Even the most desperately lonely of teenage girls won't feel her stomach knotting with desire when she's fed little but a diet of the terminally dull Westlife. Boys, whilst they would have once steered themselves towards the denim and leather of heavy metal are probably turned off by the entire rock experience, seduced instead by computer games and Internet porn.
Of course, it wasn't all David Bowie pretending to fellate Mick Ronson and nor was it limp-wristed pop like Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Instead, there were riots on Brighton Beach, the downing of pills - blues, purple hearts and bennies - and the odd chance of a shag on a sofa or down a back alley. But, as Pete Townshend would write in the lyrics of his original rock album Quadrophenia, it was the desperate attempt to remain looking cool whilst forgetting the grim reality of one's home life that drove the contradiction at the heart of mod. When Townshend wrote, "Zoot suit / White jacket with side vents / Five inches long", it was in between the sound of a kettle boiling, of chips frying in a greasy cafe, of the news of running battles between mods and rockers on the beach and the sound of a fight kicking off in a nightclub, with "On the dance floor broken glass / And bloodied faces slowly pass." As Townshend himself described it, mod was short for nothing more than, "...young, beautiful and stupid" but as he's admitted since - and never more honestly than when discussing the writing of Quadrophenia, he couldn't help but love the mods.
None of which is accurately captured in the narrative of this film, which is probably the weakest aspect of it all. The actual plot concerns Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a mod living in London, who hangs around with his mod friends, rides around Shepherd's Bush on his Labretta scooter and takes pills, crashes parties and goes to mod nights at The Goldhawk Club. Working as a post room boy at an advertising firm and still living his with parents in their terraced house, Jimmy has a little bit of money left over each week to buy tailored suits, to run his Lambretta and to buy pills from his mate Ferdy (Trevor Laird). But his life lacks purpose and the more he ignores that feeling, the worse it gets. When he falls in love with Steph (Leslie Ash), when an old friend turns up back in London as a rocker (Ray Winstone) and as his more carefree mates - Chalky (Philip Davis), Dave (Mark Wingett), Spider (Gary Shail), Danny (Daniel Peacock) and John (John Altman) - Jimmy feels as though he might drown under the weight of keeping up with mod fashions, of working and of a feeling of disillusionment. But then there's talk of Brighton on a Bank Holiday, of thousands of mods arriving on their scooters, of maybe something kicking off against the rockers and of the Ace Face (Sting) being there. Are three days in Brighton enough to convince Jimmy to stay a mod?
As a film, there's not a great deal to it. The album offers a much better realisation of the concept of a disillusioned mod but perhaps the problem in both cases is that they tend to dwell on the actual mod-ness of the story. On the contrary, what works best and why Quadrophenia remains a classic of youth cinema is in its portrayal of the limitless reserves of teenage confidence. "Fack off! Bollocks! Fack off!" These are the first words in the film and they're memorable ones, not only for being such a quick burst of swearing so early on but for the sight of Jimmy perched on his Lambretta and spitting back against the rockers who've surrounded him. These characters may not ask questions about their place in the world and in society but simply assume that much of it is there to serve their needs. When a drugs deal goes wrong, there's the cry of, "Let's do 'his motor!", which ends with Jimmy chucking a gas cylinder through the windscreen of a Jag. There's a burglary in a chemist's shop that ends with a Spider finding a box of condoms and the gang giggling at them as he puts them on his fingers whilst there's the perennial teenage cry of, "There's a party down the Kitchener road!" to fix up the next stop when out for a night.
In spite of all that, there are some obvious highlights, which have left the film a classic cult movie. The ride down to Brighton is superb, capturing not only the excitement of a gang but also the film in miniature, with nods to mod culture, an attack by a gang of rockers and some fantastic music. Similarly, the fight on the seafront at Brighton is still thrilling, even when it's interrupted by Jimmy and Steph's quick shag whilst the Ace Face's appearance in the dock shows that Sting, in the years before the tantric sex and the saving of the rain forests, was actually pretty cool. Being Quadrophenia, it all goes wrong for Jimmy when he arrives back in London. With his scooter trashed, Steph now with Dave and having quit his job, he downs a fiver's worth of pills, catches the 5.15 back to Brighton and catches up with the Ace Face, where all of his beliefs in mod come crashing down.
It's in those final moments that the film comes back to sharing some of the album's narrative, being all the better for it. The ending, which is rather hotly debated, is actually quite obvious, with Jimmy walking away from mod, from his teenage years and into an uncertain future, perhaps not knowing what he wants but knowing what he doesn't want. Like Burgess' Alex de Large, Jimmy simply grows up and in spite of the terrible things that he does in the film, he leaves it a changed character and one who has brighter times ahead. In that respect, it's very much the perfect teenage movie, showing that no matter how bleak those years may be, there's always a much better time ahead. A way of life indeed.
Anamorphically presented in 1.85:1, this is a big improvement over the old fullscreen release from a few years back. For a start, it's in a widescreen format - there doesn't look to be any matting of the image so it would appear as though this was the original aspect ratio - but it's more that the picture has clearly been remastered that's impressive, with much better colours than before and an amount of detail to the image that's an improvement on any previous presentation of it. And yet, you will have to look closely just to be certain of that, particularly if you're new to Quadrophenia. As Roddam admits on the commentary, it was cheaply made - the director used a Citroen 2CV as a camera car and backlit Phil Daniels in the opening ride across London by having a black taxi follow him with its headlights on - and has a rather rough and ready approach to some of the footage. However, this now looks better than it has ever done so before and should remain the definitive release for some years to come.
The DD2.0 Surround soundtrack is certainly more than capable of handling the audio stage and sounds good throughout. Again, though, it's worth remembering the limited budget afforded to the making of Quadrophenia so although the dialogue can be incoherent at times and the songs never sound anywhere near as good as they do on the original album, this still sounds much better than it ever did previously.
Given the sometimes random nature of this business, we don't always receive the second disc in a two-disc set and so it proves with Quadrophenia. Therefore, I cannot offer any thoughts on the two bonus features on the second disc but the Commentary that accompanies the film is a great one, with Phil Daniels and Franc Roddam being recorded together and Leslie Ash recorded separately but edited in during her scene-specific comments. Daniels and Roddam make for a great pairing, with the two of them laughing at various points in the film - the biggest laugh probably comes with Phil Daniels saying that it was clear that he had a fluffer for his nude scene but that poor old Ray Winstone obviously didn't - discussing the actors and talking about the making of the film. They clearly have fond memories of the time and Franc Roddam looks back on it warmly. Finally, it's worth noting that this commentary has been subtitled.
A superb film that's as much a classic of teen cinema as American Grafitti and Dazed And Confused, Quadrophenia is the film that so many others aspire to be. Despite it maybe not being as technically well made as either of those films, it has such an obvious love of Pete Townshend's original material and of teenage gangs that any shortcomings are more than made up by its passion. Finally coming on a two-disc SE with plenty of bonus material, Quadrophenia deserves a place in the home of anyone who's ever worn a green parka, crashed a party, eyed up a mate's girlfriend or felt proud at being part of a gang. Which may, I suspect, include almost everyone here.