Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia is a hodgepodge of a film that mixes rock music, teenage angst, and gang warfare to create an intriguing, character-driven story of Britain’s “mod” scene of the 1960s. But it’s not the story or plot that makes Quadrophenia memorable, it’s the wonderfully effective musical score by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, better known as the rock band The Who.
Quadrophenia is the story of Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a “mod” (which is short for “modern”). Like all mods, Jimmy rides around on scooters, hangs out with other mods, pops pills, causes mischief, dresses smartly, and dances awkwardly. Jimmy is aggressively everything that his parents are not, which naturally causes rifts between him and adults. The real focus of Quadrophenia, though, is Jimmy’s search for love and, more importantly, identity.
Unlike The Who’s other album-turned-film, Tommy (1975), Quadrophenia is not a traditional rock opera: none of the dialogue is told through music. Instead, the music offers a kind of commentary on what is happening on-screen. There are moments in the music that are more directly related to what is happening to the characters than others, but everything is tied into the same theme of finding one’s identity. Not only is the music memorable in a storytelling sense, but it’s also just kick ass rock music from The Who, which makes it a blast to listen to.
At two hours in length, Quadrophenia has moments that seem a bit stretched. For example, there are scenes where Jimmy is shown walking about the beach, or sitting in sadness, and so on, that would have had the same effect on the audience if they were shown for half the length. This slows down the pacing too much, and at times, the film feels like it’s dragging. If the film were cut down another 15-20 minutes, it would clip along excellently, which would play in well thematically with the rest of the movie.
What Roddam nails right out of the gate is Quadrophenia’s mood. If you don’t enjoy the first ten minutes of the film, turn it off. It starts high – fun, free – and begins taking the downward spiral that Jimmy’s adolescence takes, ending on a much darker, adult note. What remains a constant, though, through every frame, is the energy of youth, which is quite a fantastic feat by Roddam.
Even though many of my peers will have little to no knowledge of the mods of the 1960s, Roddam’s film is strong enough that it really doesn’t matter. This is a story of youth, which every human can connect with, regardless of race, culture, or sex. Quadrophenia isn’t a perfect film, but it is a lot of fun, and screams of a time that I will never truly know: 1960s Britain. Though a love story ties the beginning to the end, Quadrophenia is very much a film about identity; about a young man moving from adolescence into adulthood, no matter how hard he tries to fight it. The rock score by The Who is not only icing on the cake, but also a necessary storytelling technique that drives the movie forward. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia is arguably as effective today as it was back in 1979, and is definitely recommended.
It isn’t until one watches some of the special features on this release that one realizes just how much work the Criterion Collection has done on this transfer. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K film scanner from a 35 mm interpositive (all according to the detailed booklet that Criterion has included). From there, it was color graded under the supervision of Brian Tufano, the director of photography (DP). The resulting image is stunning. There are virtually no instances of debris, scratches, or flickers, and the colors are vibrant and alive. The dark scenes are detailed, and the day scenes are beautiful. Criterion has once again nailed a perfect transfer.
The audio is equally as stunning. There is an entire special feature dedicated to the audio upgrade, which takes the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack and remasters it into a new 5.1 surround soundtrack. This works incredibly well, and the louder the movie is played, the better. The music engulfs the viewer, and is mixed wonderfully with the dialogue and sound effects. Though the 5.1 surround option may not be the original, there is no doubt that it is a vast improvement, and is the only way I would ever watch the film. For the purists, the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack is also available. There are English subtitles available for the deaf and hard of hearing, or, like me, Americans that can’t quite make out every word through the thick dialects.
This Quadrophenia release doesn’t have the biggest assortment of supplements (as Criterion calls them) I’ve seen from the company, but what is here is a lot of fun. The biggest and best feature is the new 2012 audio commentary recording by director Franc Roddam and DP Brian Tufano. This commentary is great because Roddam and Tufano discuss many of their directorial choices, which are my favorite commentaries to listen to. It isn’t just a fluff piece, but has substance and genuinely adds to the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. There’s also a segment from the BBC series, Talking Pictures, (26:06) that perfectly places the film into its historical context. My favorite part of this feature is the lengths at which they discuss the dancing of 1964, and the mods. Next up are two features entitled Mods and Rockers (8:19 and 34:40) that detail the fights between the two clans. The first, shorter feature is very pro-mod, which is pretty interesting to see. The second, much longer feature has some interesting information regarding this era, but everything is presented much too slowly to be truly entertaining.
There is also a new interview with Bill Curbishley (13:42), co-producer of Quadrophenia, from 2012. This is a great interview because Curbishley talks a lot about The Who and their efforts into filmmaking, including their work on Tommy. The final supplement on the disc (aside from a couple of trailers) is an interview with Bob Pridden (7:49). Pridden’s enthusiasm for the film, and the new 5.1 surround sound option, is entirely evident in this short interview. The feature spends a great deal of time showing scenes from the film with the original 2.0 option and comparing it to the new 5.1 option. It’s here that the viewer really sees just how powerful the new 5.1 surround option really is.
The final special feature, and one that is a staple of Criterion Collection releases, is the booklet, which contains an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a personal history by Irish Jack, who was a mod himself, and the liner notes from the 1973 album from Pete Townshend. This booklet is one of the thicker ones I’ve gone through, and is well worth the time. Aesthetically, with its metallic, red, and black coloring, the booklet is absolutely gorgeous.
Here’s something I’ve said time and time again since I’ve started reviewing their releases: The Criterion Collection once again hits a home run with Quadrophenia. From the supplements that perfectly place the film historically, to the almost too good to be true audio and visual transfer, this release is immaculate. Fans of the movie will adore what Criterion has been able to do, and newcomers, like myself, will likely be impressed by the sheer vivacity of the film. This Quadrophenia release comes highly recommended.
The Criterion Collection presents Quadrophenia. Directed by: Franc Roddam. Written by: Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, and Franc Roddam. Starring: Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Philip Davis, Mark Wingett, Ray Winstone, and Sting. Running time: 120 minutes. Rating: R. Released: August 28, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.