On my ever-expanding list of favorite movies, two titles have shared the top spot since 1979: “It's a Wonderful Life” and “Quadrophenia.”
They couldn't seem more different. One is an uplifting Christmas fantasy from Hollywood, the other is a downbeat coming-of-age drama from England. But both movies are about everymen who stare into the abyss before choosing life over death.
Ironically, many fans who are drawn to “Quadrophenia” because of the Who's soundtrack still don't realize that it's got a redemptive ending. At midnight screenings in the '80s, I made it my mission to point out that the first scene is also the last, and frame-by-frame analysis reveals that Jimmy the Mod literally walks away from the cliff.
Now they can see for themselves. On Aug. 28, the Criterion Collection releases “Quadrophenia” on Blu-ray, coinciding with the Who's announcement that the band will re-create the album on a North America tour this year.
“Quadrophenia,” recorded in 1973, never achieved the iconic status of the Who's earlier rock opera, “Tommy,” which became a gaudy film by Ken Russell. But “Quadrophenia” is the superior album--and movie.
Pete Townshend wrote the story, about a mixed-up Who fan whose mod comrades are at war with rival rockers circa 1964, to reflect the diverse personalities within the band. The ambitious double-album yielded concert staples such as “Love Reign O'er Me,” “5:15” and “The Real Me.” But Townshend wisely relinquished control of the 1979 movie adaptation to a relatively unknown director named Franc Roddam.
Roddam crafted a kitchen-sink drama that owed more to the “angry young man” cinema of the '60s than the arena rock of the '70s. It starred Phil Daniels as Jimmy, a buttoned-down clerk by day and a pill-popping mod by night.
Daniels is great, but like Roddam, he never reached the same level again. Some of the supporting cast were luckier: Ray Winstone plays an old friend of Jimmy's who is a rival rocker; and Sting as “the ace face,” is the flashy king of the mods who moonlights as a lowly bellboy.
The Criterion Blu-ray ($31.96 at www.criterion.com; also available on DVD) includes commentary, trailers, a new audio mix approved by Townshend and a documentary from French television that includes rare performance footage of the Who at a mod nightclub in 1964.
The band, now comprising Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey, will not be coming to St. Louis on its holiday-season tour; but for the latter-day mods of my generation, it's worth hopping on a Vespa to see them in some snowy clime--even if it means missing “It's a Wonderful Life.”