By John Curley
There has been a great deal of activity surrounding The Who lately. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey recently announced an upcoming North American tour that will focus on Quadrophenia. And Townshend’s autobiography, titled Who I Am, is slated for release in October. In addition, a boxed set of Quadrophenia, titled Director’s Cut, was released earlier this year.
Last night (Tuesday, July 24th), The Who premiered their latest film, a documentary with the rather unwieldy title The Who: Quadrophenia—Can You See The Real Me? The Story Behind The Album, at movie theaters across the United States. The film, which was directed by Matt O’Casey, was aired in the UK on BBC4 on June 29th.
For the uninitiated, Quadrophenia, which was released in October 1973, is the story of Jimmy the Mod, a London teen circa 1964, who loves fashion, music, and pills. The story follows Jimmy's adventures on a Bank Holiday in Brighton and his return to Brighton afterward to find that the Mod he had respected the most, the Ace Face, worked as a mere bellboy at a posh Brighton hotel. Jimmy suffers from double schizophrenia, with his four personalities mirroring those of the four original members of The Who.
The documentary is quite a treat for longtime fans of The Who. It features studio recordings from the Quadrophenia sessions that had been previously unreleased. And the footage from a 1973 concert in Manchester, England on the Quadrophenia tour is pretty spectacular. The vintage footage of Mods in London and Brighton is really interesting. But the thing that makes the film really special is the interviews. The recording sessions for Quadrophenia were quite arduous, something that was mentioned repeatedly throughout the film. The tension during the sessions culminated in a fistfight between Townshend and Daltrey which concluded with Townshend being knocked unconscious by a Daltrey punch, a tale that is quite humorously recalled by Daltrey. And Daltrey talks with some still-noticeable disdain about how Townshend was never present when Daltrey was recording his vocals during the sessions.
In addition to Townshend and Daltrey, others who were on the scene during the Quadrophenia sessions also provide comments that add a great deal to the film. These people include Townshend’s friend and former flatmate Richard Barnes, original Mod Irish Jack Lyons, photographer Ethan Russell (who took the photos in the booklet that accompanied the album), engineer Ron Nevison, Ramport Studios secretary Georgiana Waller, tour manager John Wolff, and The Who’s manager Bill Curbishley. There is a very entertaining discussion in a London café between Townshend, Barnes, and Lyons about the Mod lifestyle that is a real highlight of the film.
The Who's deceased members, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, are represented in the film in archive interview segments. Moon's comments are typically madcap while Entwistle's discussion about the barber that gave the band their Mod haircuts is very funny.
One of the best sequences in the film features Townshend returning to Ramport Studios in London’s Battersea section, the studios where Quadrophenia was recorded and which were owned by the band at the time. Townshend discusses why the studios were so good for the recording of the album and about how young fans of the band from the local area would turn up, would be let inside, and were sometimes treated to playbacks of the then-unreleased material from the Quadrophenia album.
For many fans of The Who, Quadrophenia is the band’s crowning achievement. Townshend states in the film that it was the last great album that The Who recorded, and he’s probably right. While the overrated Tommy has been more celebrated and has been made into a glitzy Hollywood film as well as a Broadway musical, it is Quadrophenia that really defines The Who as a band. Quadrophenia is The Who’s masterpiece, and this film told the tale of the album quite well. I cannot recommend it highly enough.