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
“The mod subculture began with a few cliques of teenage boys with family connections to the garment trade in London in 1958. These early mods were generally middle class, and were obsessed with new fashions and music styles, such as slim-cut Italian suits, modern jazz and rhythm and blues. Their all-night urban social life was fuelled, in part, by amphetamines. It is a popular belief that the mods and their rivals, the rockers, both branched off from the Teddy boys, a 1950s subculture in England. The Teddy boys were influenced by American rock n’ roll, wore Edwardian-style clothing, got pompadour or quiff hairstyles, and brought stylish gang violence to the UK club scenes.
Originally the term mod was used to describe fans of modern jazz music (as opposed to trad, for fans of traditional jazz). Eventually the definition of mod expanded beyond jazz to include other fashion and lifestyle elements, such as continental clothes, scooters and to a lesser degree a taste for pop art, French New Wave films and existentialist philosophy. The 1959 novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes has often been cited as an inside look at the late 1950s teenage London culture that spawned the 1960s mod scene.
Members of the rockers subculture (associated with motorcycles and leather biker jackets) sometimes clashed with the mods, leading to battles in seaside resorts such as Brighton, Margate, and Hastings in 1964. The mods and rockers conflict led to a moral panic about modern youth in the United Kingdom.”
Almost over before it became popular, the Mod scene faded after it’s notorious high point (low point according to the British press of the time) of late 1963-64. The Mod scene all but disappeared, Rock music arrived and steamrolled all in its path, until Pete Townsend wrote a rock-opera based on those ‘crazy days’.
“The 1979 film Quadrophenia, based on the 1973 album of the same name by The Who, also played a major role in the fashion industry, being one of the influences on the resurgence of Mod culture in the late 1970’s and the rise of the New Romantics of the 1980s. The style of the film, featuring tailor-made slim-fit suits and ties topped over with an oversized parka (itself influenced by French New Wave cinema) was also extremely popular and highly imitated in fashion, music and cinema in the following decades.
I fall neither one way or the other, loving music, fashion and art from all subcultures, however, the style and angst of Quadrophenia set a high bar for all youth films of the last 30 years… few have managed to come close.
Philip W. “Phil” Daniels (born 25 October 1958, Islington) is an English actor, most noted for film and television roles as a rebellious cockney youth in classic British films such as ‘The Class of Miss MacMichael’ (1978), ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Scum’ (both 1979), ‘Breaking Glass’ (1980), Meantime’ (1984) and ‘Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire’ (1985). He has also featured as a regular on British TV in shows such as ‘EastEnders’, ‘New Tricks’ and ‘Rock & Chips’.
He made his film debut in 1976, aged 17, as a spaghetti spilling waiter in Alan Parker’s ‘Bugsy Malone’. After appearing regularly on TV he scored a break in ‘The Class of Miss MacMichael’ (1978), a British comedy drama directed by Silvio Narizzano, starring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed. Based on a novel by Sandy Hutson, the film depicts the attempts of an idealistic teacher, Miss MacMichael, to inspire her pupils in an inner-city London school. However, his next two movies would provide the roles with which he would become permanently recognised for, ‘Scum’ and ‘Quadrophenia’.
Scum is a 1979 British drama directed by Alan Clarke, portraying the brutality of life inside a British Borstal (Young Offenders prison). The story was originally made for the BBC’s Play for Today strand in 1977, however due to the violence depicted in the film, it was withdrawn from broadcast. Two years later, director Alan Clarke and scriptwriter Roy Winton remade it as a film, first shown on Channel 4 in 1983. By this time the borstal system had been reformatted and eventually allowed the original TV version to be aired.
The film tells the story of a young offender named Carlin (Ray Winstone) as he arrives at the institution, and his rise through violence and self-protection to the top of the inmates’ pecking order, purely as a tool to survive. Phil Daniels plays Richards, part of the established gang that rules the borstal at the outset of the film. He gets his comeuppance at the hands of Carlin in a particularly brutal scene.
Beyond Carlin’s individual storyline, it is also cast as an indictment of the borstal system’s flaws with no attempt at rehabilitation. The warders and convicts alike are brutalised by the system. The film’s controversy was derived from its graphic depiction of racism, extreme violence, rape, suicide and very strong language. Scum would be one of the most controversial British films of the early 1980s, but has since become regarded as a popular classic.
Quadrophenia is a 1979 British film, loosely based around the 1973 rock opera of the same name by The Who. Directed by Franc Roddam in his feature directing debut, the film, set in 1965, follows the story of Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a London Mod. Disillusioned by his parents and a job as a post room boy in an advertising firm, Jimmy finds an outlet for his teenage angst with his Mod friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail). However, his angst and confusion are compounded by the fact that one of the Mods’ rivals, the Rockers, is in fact childhood friend Kevin (Ray Winstone). An assault by aggressive Rockers on Spider leads to a serious unprovoked attack on a Rocker who, unbeknownst to Jimmy and his Mod mates, is Kevin.
A bank holiday weekend provides the excuse for the rivalry between Mods and Rockers to come to a head, as they both descend upon the seaside town of Brighton. A series of running battles ensues. As the police close in on the rioters, Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph (Lesley Ash), a girl on whom he has a crush, to have sex. When the pair emerge, they find themselves in the middle of the melee just as police are succeeding in detaining rioters. Jimmy is arrested, detained with a violent, leading Mod he calls ‘Ace Face’ (played by Sting) and later fined.
Back in London, Jimmy becomes increasingly depressed. He is thrown out of his house by his mother, who finds his stash of amphetamine pills; quits his job, spends his severance package on more pills and alienated from his family and friends descends into a deeper depression as he tries to relive the excitement of Brighton.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Daniels was a member of new wave band The Cross along with fellow actor Peter Hugo Daly, the band releasing a single, “Kill Another Night” on RCA Records in 1979. His musical inclinations were revealed when he starred in a little known 1985 British snooker musical ‘Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire’ (1985). He narrated tracks on the Parklife and Think Tank albums for Blur.