The mid-seventies success of the Ken Russell directed rock opera Tommy (based on the Who album of the same name) prompted The Who films to bring their classic tale of teen angst, Quadrophenia, to the big screen.
Set in 1964 at the peak of the first Mod subculture, Quadrophenia is the coming-of-age story of young London Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a disillusioned, confused and angry young man.
During the day, Jimmy works as a post-room runner at a large corporate firm in the City, however at night and on the weekends, Jimmy is a Mod. He hangs out with his friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), enjoying an amphetamine fuelled alternate lifestyle of drinking, partying and posing.
Influenced by peer pressure, and desperate to ‘belong’ to the ‘scene’ at all costs, Jimmy alienates his childhood friend Kev (Ray Winstone), who is now a Rocker. In a classic example of Jimmy’s mindset, when asked by Kev why he is a Mod, he answers: “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya?”
Adding to his confusion, Jimmy has a crush on local girl Steph (Leslie Ash), and feels increasingly detached from his parents who ‘don’t understand him.’ To make matters worse, in a retaliatory attack, Jimmy and his friends beat up Kev’ simply because he is a rocker albeit not the one responsible for injuring their friend. This act of betrayal only adds to Jimmy’s growing drug-induced confusion.
A chance to get away from it all comes when the Mods converge on the coastal town of Brighton over a bank holiday weekend. In some of the film’s most iconic scenes we meet the hordes of Mods led by the self-styled ‘Ace Face’ (Sting in his film debut), and witness a running battle between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers, during which Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph where he finally has the girl of his dreams, only to emerge and be arrested.
At the moment he belongs and appears to have everything he wanted, everything is taken away; Jimmy’s life continues to fall apart, his identity crisis escalates, alienating him from everything he knows…
Written and directed by Franc Roddam with an obvious love for the subject matter. Jimmy is real; he’s likeable, flawed, annoying and complex, not a one-dimensional movie teenager like so many other coming of age stories.
The cast are all good, delivering natural performances, many in their debut roles, headed by Phil Daniels who is exceptional as Jimmy in the most iconic and most important performance of his underrated career.
I love this film; the energy, performances and depiction of Mod subculture, as it says on the poster: “It’s a way of life”. The film is gritty, humorous, violent and cool, it’s also quintessentially British.
SPOILER ALERT: I also love the ambiguous and symbolic conclusion, symbolizing either Jimmy’s death (though he is not shown falling) or the death of his belief in the Mod culture and his final decision to live without it. It still remains a talking point 30 years later.
Though not a major box-office hit, Quadrophenia quickly went onto receive a cult-following. An apparently accurate sample of the times, the films celebration of the Mod movement partly inspired the Mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80’s. Many of the Mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock, new wave and of course, the music of The Who. The revival was led by The Jam (whose front man Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords.
The Who are everywhere throughout the film, a poster on Jimmy’s wall, performing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere on TV and the My Generation single played at a party.
It’s interesting to note that John Lydon screen tested for the role of Jimmy, it would have been a very different film with him, I can see him inhabiting Jimmy with angst and anger, not so much anything else.
“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, We are, We are the Mods…”
Quality: 5 out of 5 stars
Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars
Teenage runaway Nicky Marada (Robin Johnson) is arrested after causing a scene outside a nightclub; she’s interned in a psychiatric hospital where she’s placed in a room with Pamela (Trini Alvarado), daughter of Commissioner David Pearl (Peter Coffield) wants to clean up Times Square.
The girls are very different, Nicky is loud, obnoxious and rebellious; Pamela is shy, quiet and insular. When Nicky is discharged she takes Pamela with her, they steal an ambulance and escape to a new life in New York City.
The girls try their luck cleaning car windscreens, hustling cards, attempted muggings, as exotic dancers and eventually make a name as the ‘Sleez Sisters’ through their performances of Nicky’s songs and her insistence on smashing TV sets as a form of protest and self-promotion.
John LaGuardia (Tim Curry) is a DJ in New York; he speaks to them through his radio show, championing their cause, updating their growing fan base with stories of their struggles and alleged punk ethos. As their fame grows they organise a concert in Time Square, however the trio’s delicate relationship starts to fracture.
Times Square was allegedly inspired by a young girls diary found in a sofa by director Allan Moyle who co-wrote the script with Jacob Brackman. The movie starts well and although focused on the serious issue of mental illness, is incredibly good gritty fun. Nicky and Pamela manage to live and work in late 70’s Times Square and avoid the stereotypical pitfalls associated with the area and era: drugs, alcoholism and prostitution are all either side stepped or glossed over. This isn’t such an issue as the movie looks great and is nice snapshot of the era; however any pretension at honest portrayal has to be taken tongue-in-cheek.
The movie bombed on initial release; this has resulted in a blame-game between writer-director Allan Moyle (Pump up the Volume, Empire Records) and producer Robert Stigwood (Saturday Night Fever, Grease). The alleged issues arose over the latter’s insistence on more songs throughout the soundtrack. There must be more too it as the final movie is disjointed and unfocussed. It has since generated a cult following on VHS, DVD and at Lesbian Film Festivals.
Although the movie was a box-office flop, the excellent soundtrack was a huge hit, and it’s not surprising when you look at the track listing: Ramones: I Wanna Be Sedated; The Ruts: Babylon is Burning; The Pretenders; Suzi Quatro: Rock Hard; Innocent not guilty by Garland Jeffreys; Talking Heads; Lou Reed: Walk on the Wild Side; Tubeway Army: Down in the Park: Patti Smith; XTC: Take this Town; Roxy Music and original songs by Robin Johnson, Damn Dog Now (covered by Manic Street Preachers) and as a duets with Trini Alvarado on Your Daughter is One and David Johansen of the New York Dollson Flowers of the City.
It could have been, and probably should have been, a classic story of teenage alienation and rebellion. It has the look, the setting and the soundtrack; however it also has none of the grubby fun of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; the quality of Suburbia or Repo Man; or the real grit of Christiane F.
Quality: 3 out of 5 stars
Any good: 4 out of 5 stars