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The reissued Who cult movie Quadrophenia is a vibrant howl of adolescent angst

The reissued Who cult movie Quadrophenia is a vibrant howl of adolescent angst

Quadrophenia

dir. Franc Roddam

R, 120 min.

Quadrophenia is my favorite Who album, and one of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll albums, period. I like it much better than Tommy, which relies on loose-fitting pieces of British post-war abandonment, misplaced star idolatry, and mushy-headed self-actualization. I even like it better than Who’s Next, which still bears some scars of being ripped from a pretentious, inarticulate Pete Townshend sci-fi concept. Quadrophenia has a more focused idea, about the mixed-up feelings of a fashion-conscious Who fan circa 1963-65. The songs weave in and out of each other with purpose, rendering most of the individual tracks useless as songs unto themselves—but they add up to a magnificent expression of the complexities of adolescence.

Perhaps because of its relative lack of comprehensible singles, the record wasn’t especially popular with the rock mainstream upon its release in 1973. “The Real Me,” “5:15,” and “Love Reign O’er Me” got (and still get) airplay, but the double-album is really a complete entity, telling a story so intricate and so internalized that audiences reportedly grew restless when Roger Daltrey tried to explain the songs on The Who’s 1973-74 world tour. The film version of Quadrophenia is also less well known than the film version of Tommy. But a new reissue of Quadrophenia, now making its way around the country and opening Friday in Nashville, shows that director Franc Roddam’s 1979 examination of the Mod lifestyle is far more sensitive and sensible than Ken Russell’s gaseous 1975 spectacle.

Phil Daniels stars as Jimmy, an attention-starved teen from the Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of West London. The movie follows the plot of the record, as Jimmy hangs out with his fellow Mods—scooter-riding, pill-popping, snappily dressed R&B fans—and clashes with gangs of Gene Vincent-loving “rockers” on the beaches of Brighton before returning home to a lousy job, nagging parents, and a girl he can’t figure out. At the climax of the story, Jimmy heads back to Brighton to recapture the best days of his young life, but instead he’s confronted with the sight of the Moddest of Mods, the head of the Hundred Faces (played in the film by Sting), groveling before squares for a paycheck.

The album adds a typically muddled Pete Townshend concept about Jimmy having multiple personalities, which was meant to give each member of the band something to do on stage. But director Roddam, who co-wrote the script, scales this down to the more workable idea that the hero is simply a moody screw-up. The film version of Quadrophenia also steers clear of movie-musical conventions. The key songs from the album are included, though not in the same order, and only as a sort of soundtrack comment on the action. In retrospect, the film is less a cult-bound midnight rock ‘n’ roll movie—from the days when rock fans had to stay up late and watch cable television to see their heroes in the mainstream media—than a progenitor of the naturalistic British cinematic examinations of class and youth that would become fashionable in the mid-to-late ‘80s.

The movie is also an unintended tribute to original Who drummer Keith Moon, who died while the film was in production, and who lived the sort of reckless, all-or-nothing life that Townshend (and later Roddam and Daniels) transplanted to the character of Jimmy. Moon’s drumming is a highlight of the record, and when one of the original Who songs shows up in the movie, the drums sound like the rapidly beating heart of a teenager veering between ecstasy and disillusionment.

But the star of the film is Townshend’s original conception, which realizes with astonishing maturity the protozoan howls of such early Who singles as “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “My Generation,” and “Substitute.” Those dispatches from the post-juvenile id are recontextualized on Quadrophenia, revisited by an adult who has compassion and nostalgia for the angst of his youth, but who also understands the brutal compromises that have to be made. These are expressed in a booklet-ful of classic Townshend lyrics, none better than, “Don’t cry because you hunt them / Hurt them first they’ll love you.”

The loveliness of the movie Quadrophenia is how Roddam manages to reproduce the rawness of those emotions without giving in to the impulse to overexplicate. Nor does he give in to the more popular ‘70s impulse, the one that often hampered Townshend himself: to cover up vague, unformed ideas by applying random psychedelia and willful obscurantism. Quadrophenia is so painfully real that by the end of the film, Phil Daniels could shout, “Hope I die before I get old!” and be absolutely credible.

—Noel Murray

Busy Body

Osmosis Jones is half-baked in a number of ways. Like many so-called “family films” these days, it alternates between pleasing the kiddies and nudging the adults in the ribs like a winking Eric Idle. It’s half live-action and half animation—but the two halves seem to belong to different movies. Worst of all, it’s half delightful premise and half tedious execution. In this miserable summer movie season, we’d all like to be forgiving of movies with some neat parts and plenty of good intentions. But Osmosis Jones is so schizoid that we walk out feeling we’ve seen parts of two mediocre movies, neither of which would be enough to hold our interest for a full 90 minutes.

For adult viewers, who can find entertainment in deliberately holding themselves above the story they’re watching, there’s some pleasure to be had in Bill Murray’s performance in the live-action portion. Murray plays an unhealthy slob whose daughter is trying to get him to reform his eating habits, partly for his own good, and partly so that he can participate in a school hike. A few decades ago, Steve Martin was the king of self-aware, ironic acting, but now the torch has been passed. Murray has always had that “we all know it’s me, not this character whose name I’m answering to” quality, and in the last few years he’s made that the dominant note in his performances. In Osmosis Jones, he goes through the motions of zoo maintenance—his character’s job—at a level two steps down from phoning it in, and does the worst impression of a leg cramp ever seen on screen. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who directed this film, have a similar slacker approach to movie-making, and it’s refreshing in a perverse way to see millions of dollars poured into a live-action product that looks so obtusely, intentionally crummy.

In the animated portions, Murray’s disregard for hygiene leads to a police manhunt inside his body. A screw-up white blood cell (Chris Rock) is partnered with a novice cold tablet (David Hyde-Pierce) in the search for a very nasty virus. Here the terrific idea of the movie pays off—intermittently. Taking inspiration from the transient hipness of Bell Science films like “Hemo the Magnificent,” which took students of the 1960s and ‘70s into the human body with stylized cartooning and fast-paced gags, the animated sequences are packed with biological and anatomical inside jokes. The design is as good-looking and smooth as the Farrellys’ live-action scenes are ugly and stiff.

But the humor and sly asides fall away in the long chase through the body that takes up the last half-hour of the movie, and all that’s left is action and more action. This summer’s would-be blockbusters have been a collective object lesson in how boring action can be when no one’s given any thought to pacing or relief, and Osmosis Jones is just another data point. The fun of catching the script and the art direction in the act of being funny gets lost in mindless kineticism. At any given moment, the musical score is whirling, Rock is screaming, and increasingly featureless characters and backgrounds are whizzing by at increasingly rapid rates. There’s no time to enjoy it if there’s no time to breathe.

Rarely have the contradictory impulses in moviemaking been so poorly integrated as in Osmosis Jones. Neither fish nor fowl, neither Farrelly brothers nor Disney, the movie pulls itself apart into disembodied dancing limbs while we watch it. In the end, unable to reassemble it in our minds, we just forget it ever happened.

—Donna Bowman

Winning season

Since July, I’ve read nothing but complaints about how dismal this summer movie season is. Are these people nuts? Have you seen Memento? Antonio Gaudi? The Anniversary Party? Sexy Beast? I can think of a dozen more films of that quality or higher that have played here since May. The Belcourt’s new calendar system pumps at least four cool movies a week into the theater, and the quick fade of heavily touted summer blockbusters has Green Hills plugging in as many as four new foreign or independent films every week. That’s without adding Nashville Premieres’ or Sarratt’s summer lineup. Folks, I’ve been seeing movies in Nashville for more than 20 years, and I can tell you, beyond question: We’ve never had it this good.

Maybe if the summer season consisted of nothing but the movies in the Variety Top 10, I’d agree that it sucked. But it doesn’t, and I don’t. So if you need an excuse not to plunk down your hard-earned cash for Rush Hour 2 or America’s Sweethearts, here are six.

Opening Friday at Green Hills are two of the best movies to show at this year’s Nashville Independent Film Festival. Jim McKay’s Our Song is a vibrant, naturalistic, beautifully acted study of three teenage girls in a high-school marching band growing up and apart in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. Lost and Delirious, by Canadian director Léa Pool, examines repression, sexual intolerance, and obsession at a girls’ boarding school; it boasts a startling performance by Coyote Ugly’s Piper Perabo. Both movies were contenders for the NIFF’s audience award; both are well worth seeing. Green Hills is also opening one of the summer’s arthouse successes, Francis Veber’s funny, neatly constructed farce The Closet, with Daniel Auteuil’s deft comic turn as a man who feigns homosexuality to keep his job.

Along with Quadrophenia (see above), the Belcourt offers a rare screening of one of the last great films of the silent era, F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty’s South Seas romance Tabu. It only shows through Thursday night, but its masterful telling of a tragic tale—about young lovers who attempt to escape a tribal edict—and its miraculous black-and-white images of unspoiled 1929 Tahiti make it a must-see. On its other screen, the theater opens Rolando Klein’s trippy 1975 film Chac: The Rain God, a mystical story influenced by Mayan mythology and shot on location in the Chiapas region of Mexico with native actors.

And if you’ve seen all those? You’ve still got a day or two to catch Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide, the first subtitled Hong Kong action movie to play a commercial Nashville theater. Joel Hopkins’ indie comedy Jump Tomorrow stays through Thursday, and the elegant, eerie ghost story The Others is still around. If you limit yourself to seeing any one of these films each week, in this supposedly lousy movie season, you’ll run out of decent movies to see in—oh, about two months.

—Jim Ridley

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