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Quadrophenia *****

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

Mod Subculture

“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.

Ken Russell – R.I.P.

It was remiss of me to not post this three days ago… I only found out. R.I.P. Ken Russell.

Maverick British director Ken Russell died in his sleep Sunday at age 84. Russell’s controversial films included the Oliver Reed-Vanessa Redgrave starrer The Devils; Women In Love; and Tommy, the screen version of The Who’s rock opera. In the U.S., he directed the psychedelic Altered States, but his collaboration with equally strong-willed screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky haunted that film, and the failure of his next film, Crimes Of Passion, sent him back to the UK. There, he continued making films, the last of which was The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher.

Russell was a polarizing filmmaker, with critics often split on his films. His movies rarely achieved commercial success thanks to his unique takes on provocative themes that often included sex, drugs and violence. His 1971 film Women In Love, an adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel, was his only work to receive Academy Award consideration: it was nominated for four Oscars in 1971, including for best director, and won Best Actress for Glenda Jackson.

Phil Daniels

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.

Ken Russell

Henry Kenneth Alfred “Ken” Russell (born 3 July 1927) is an English film director. He is known for his pioneering work in television and film and for his controversial style. He has been criticized as being over-obsessed with sexuality and the church. Russell began directing for the BBC, where he did creative adaptations of composers’ lives which were unusual for the time. ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ sought to portray composer Richard Strauss as a Nazi: one scene in particular showed a Jew being tortured while a group of SS men look on in delight, to the tune of Strauss music. The Strauss family was so outraged they withdrew all music rights and imposed a worldwide ban on the film that continues to this day. This would not be the only time Russell courted controversy.

Russell’s first feature film was ‘French Dressing’ (1963), a comedy loosely based on ‘And God Created Woman’; its critical and commercial failure sent Russell back to the BBC. However, his second big-screen effort was part of author Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer spy cycle, ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ (1967), starring Michael Caine; it was a success.

In 1969, Russell directed what is considered his “signature film”, ‘Women In Love’, a rollicking adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel of the same name about two artist sisters living in post-Worrld War 1 Britain. The film starred Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. The film is notable for its nude wrestling scene, which broke the convention at the time that a mainstream movie could not show male genitalia. Women In Love was a ground-breaking, highly intellectual film that connected with the sexual revolution and bohemian politics of the late-60’s. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, and won one for Glenda Jackson for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Russell himself was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director (his only to this day) – as were his cinematographer and screenwriter.

He followed Women in Love with a string of innovative adult-themed films which were often as controversial as they were successful. ‘The Music Lovers’ (1970), a biopic of Tchaikovsky, starred Richard Chamberlain as a flamboyant Tchaikovsky and Glenda Jackson as his wife. The film was widely panned but it was successful at the box office.

The following year, Russell released his most imfamous film, ‘The Devils’, a film so controversial that its backers, the American company Warner Brothers,  still refuse to release it uncut. It starred Oliver Reed as a noble (if somewhat oversexed) priest who stands in the way of a corrupt church and state. Helped by publicity over the more sensational scenes, featuring sexuality among nuns, the film topped British box office receipts for eight weeks. In America, the film, which had already been cut for distribution in Britain, was further edited. It has never played in anything like its original state in America.

Russell followed The Devils with a reworking of the period musical ‘The Boy Friend’, for which he cast the model Twiggy, who won two Golden Globe Awards for her performance: one for Best Actress in a musical comedy, and one for the best newcomer. It was not a big success. Russell than had a rare box-office hit with ‘Mahler’,  a film which helped to make the name of the actor Robert Powell.

In 1975, Russell’s star-studded film version of The Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’, starring Roger Daltrey, Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner and Jack Nicholson, spent a record fourteen weeks at the No.1 spot and played to full houses for over a year. Two months before Tommy was released (in March 1975), Russell started work on ‘Lisztomania’ (1975), another vehicle for Roger Daltrey. One of Russell’s aims with this wild comic strip of a film was to explore the power of music for good (inspirational) and evil. In the film, the good music of Franz Lszt is stolen by Richard Wagner. Tommy has become a bit of a cult favourite, while Lisztomania was and is considered too outlandish, even for some Russell fans. Still, Lisztomania, topped the British box-office for two weeks in November 1975, when Tommy was still in the list of the week’s top five box-office hits. Russell’s next film, the 1977 biopic ‘Valentino’, also topped the British box-office for two weeks, but was not a hit in America.

Russell’s 1980 effort ‘Altered States’ was a departure in both genre and tone, in that it is Russell’s only foray into science fiction. Working from Paddy Chaefsky’s screenplay (based upon his novel), Russell used his penchant for elaborate visual effects to translate Chayefsky’s hallucinatory story to the cinema, and took the opportunity to add his trademark religious and sexual imagery. The film enjoyed moderate financial success, and scored with critics who had otherwise dismissed Russell’s work.

Unfortunately, Russell’s behaviour on set, including a row with Chayefsky himself, caused Russell to become a virtual pariah in Hollywood. Beyond this, Russell’s last American film, ‘Crimes of Passion’ (1984),  was seen as an all-round failure and Russell subsequently returned to Europe.

After taking a break from film to direct opera, Russell found financing with various independent companies. During this period he directed ‘Gothic’ (1986) with Gabriel Byrne, about the night Mary Shelley told the tale of Frankenstein, and ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ (1988) , based on a novella by Bram Stoker. Though dismissed at the time, both of these films are now considered cult classics of the horror genre.

1988 saw the release of ‘Salome’s Last Dance’, a loosely adapted esoteric tribute to Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salome, which was banned on the 19th century London stage. The cult movie defines Russell’s adult themed romance with the Theater of The Poor.

Russell finished the 1980s with ‘The Rainbow’, another D. H. Lawrence adaptation, which also happens to be the prequel to Women In Love. Glenda Jackson played the mother of her character in the previous film. It was a more subdued film for Russell and impressed critics. It is widely regarded as his last “personal film”.

In 1991, Russell directed his final film of any note, ‘Whore’. It was highly controversial for its sexual content. The MPAA and the theatre chains also refused to release posters or advertise a film called “Whore”, so for this purpose the film was re-titled “If You Can’t Say It, Just See It”. Russell protested his film being given such a rating when Pretty Woman got an R, on the grounds that his film showed the real hardships of being a prostitute, and the other glorified it. Often considered one of his worst efforts, it also served as the final nail in his professional coffin.

One noted admirer, the British film critic Mark Kermode, attempting to sum up the director’s achievement, called Russell; “somebody who proved that British cinema didn’t have to be about kitchen-sink realism – it could be every bit as flamboyant as Fellini. He now makes very strange experimental films like Lion’s Mouth and Revenge of the Elephant Man, and they are as edgy and out there as the work he made in the 1970s”