By Dave Thompson
Ken Russell’s cinematic realization of “Tommy” was, according to where you were sitting in 1975, either the long-awaited fulfillment of a vision that had remained aural for far too many years … or, it was an overlong, overblown and preposterously over-acted conceit that evidenced just how absurd this whole rock opera business was to begin with. And more than 35 years after the movie’s release, it retains the power to divide all comers, a magnificent absurdity that only grows more grotesque/grandiose every time you see it. And now that it’s out on Blu-ray, even the tiniest nuances are going to grow beyond all proportion.
Nobody acts in “Tommy,” not when they can over-act. Even thespians the ability of Ann-Margaret and Oliver Reed turn in performances that would seem over-wrought in a Mick Jagger video. And then there’s the movie’s non-acting cast: Tina Turner as an Acid Queen who has stepped out of one of the self-portraits on the walls of Jagger’s “Performance”; Elton John, as a massively be-booted pinball champion; and Roger Daltrey, as the deafest, dumbest, blindest kid you’ve ever seen in your life … they don’t even pretend to have direction.
Rather, they throw themselves into the ongoing madness like lemmings off a cliff, until even Keith Moon, as the child-molesting Uncle Ernie, seems understated by comparison; Moon arrived on set fresh from shooting another rock epic, David Essex’s “Stardust,” and had obviously picked up some good habits en route.
The story is ridiculous; the soundtrack (re-recording the original Tommy) is bludgeoning; the stage sets are extravagant; the special effects are blinding. From beginning to end, the original advertisements proclaimed, “Tommy” would tear your head apart, and, for once, the ad copy was correct. But only after it had finished tearing your sense of reality apart. Like it or love it, “Tommy” might well be the most perfect rock movie ever made. Not because it’s good or bad, but because it raises itself above either concern, and simply exists for the sake of itself.
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