Director: Franc Roddam
Screenplay: Dave Humphries & Martin Stellman & Franc Roddam (based on the album Quadrophenia by Pete Townshend)
Stars: Phil Daniels (Jimmy), Leslie Ash (Steph), Philip Davis (Chalky), Mark Wingett (Dave), Sting (Ace Face), Ray Winstone (Kevin), Garry Cooper (Peter), Gary Shail (Spider), Toyah Willcox (Monkey), Trevor Laird (Ferdy), Kate Williams (Mother), Michael Elphick (Father), Kim Neve (Yvonne), Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Fulford), Daniel Peacock (Danny)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1979
Country: U.K.
Quadrophenia Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
QuadropheniaLoosely based on the 1973 double album of the same title by The Who, Quadrophenia is a gritty, dour slice of kitchen-sink alienation set against the early-’60s conflict between rival teenage gangs in England. The protagonist is Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a rather unremarkable young man who attempts to find an outlet for his working-class teenage rage by identifying with the Mods, a British youth subculture associated with Italianate fashion, R&B, and motor-scooters. As the film’s title—which is simultaneously a riff on the idea of split personalities (incorrectly attributed to schizophrenia) and four-track sound recording—suggests, Jimmy is internally divided among multiple selves, constantly torn in different directions and therefore incapable of deciding what he wants in life. For him there is no peace, only constant stimulation and turmoil, which he enhances with a steady diet of amphetamine pills and conflict with Rockers, the Mods’ leather jacket-clad, motorcycle-riding opponents.

Jimmy spends much of his time with his Mod friends Chalky (Philip Davis), Dave (Mark Wingett), and Spider (Gary Shail). He has a day job, working in the mailroom at an advertising firm, but he resents his lowly station in life, which is reinforced by his own lack of ambition and interpersonal confusion. He is attracted to and semi-involved with Steph (Leslie Ash), a pretty local girl who moves in and out of his various circles. One day in a bathhouse he runs into Kevin (Ray Winstone), an old friend who has left the army and is now running with the Rockers, thus complicating the comfortably simplistic us-versus-them mentality that helps Jimmy make sense of his world. At home, he is in constant conflict with his parents (Kate Williams and Michael Elphick), who don’t understand him and his apparent aimlessness. Thus, everything in Jimmy’s life contributes directly to his alienation, fueling his sense of social and personal estrangement even as he reaches desperately for some kind of connection, which he imagines might be found in Ace Face (Sting), the unofficial leader of the Mods in whom he sees an ideal self.

In shooting the film in the rough-edged style of British social drama, first-time director Franc Roddam took a page from Ken Loach rather than Ken Russell, who directed the absurdly stylized film version of The Who’s legendary rock opera Tommy four years earlier. While Russell took the metaphysical and symbolic elements of The Who’s music and turned it into surreal, synthesized derangement, Roddam grounds Quadrophenia’s ideas about split personalities and social unrest in a relentlessly realist aesthetic. The film is, in this regard, extremely daring as it avoids pandering to Who fans who might have been looking for a direct visualization of the album; instead, Roddam (who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman) uses the ideas in Pete Townshend’s music and lyrics as a jumping-off point. Music from the album is there, scattered throughout the film and employed quite extensively in the final moments (especially the powerful rock anthem “Love Reign O’er Me”), but it plays mostly as support, rather than structure. That is not to say, however, that music isn’t crucial to the film, as the world in which the characters live is fueled by the pop and rock music by which they define themselves and their allegiances. When Jimmy sits down in his living room and starts air-drumming to a television broadcast of The Who performing “Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere,” he’s not just indulging a music preference, but rather performing his identity.

While frequently affecting and ambitious, Quadrophenia doesn’t always work if only because its protagonist is so willfully unapproachable. Daniels turns in a powerful performance as Jimmy, which means he conveys not just alienation from those around him in the narrative, but also from the audience. It is impossible to fully identify with him or feel for him, which is perhaps one of the biggest breaks from The Who’s album, where Jimmy was more of an abstract idea, rather than a recognizable person. Moving Jimmy from disembodied voice to fully realized character without providing any additional backstory or explanation, the film makes clear just how painfully vapid he is in his custom-tailored suits and drug-fueled rage. This, of course, is part of the film’s power, as it forces us to recognize both the socially determined and the selfish aspects of Jimmy’s plight—irreconcilable parts of an impossible tortured whole.

Quadrophenia Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Quadrophenia is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary by director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano
  • Video with coproducer and Who comanager Bill Curbishley
  • Video interview and restoration demonstration with Who sound engineer Bob Pridden
  • Segment on the film from a 1979 episode of the BBC series Talking Pictures
  • Segment from a 1964 episode of the French news program Sept jours du monde about mods and rockers
  • 1965 episode of the French youth-culture program Seize millions de jeunes on mods
  • Trailers
  • Insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a 1985 personal history by original mod Irish Jack, and Pete Townshend’s liner notes from the 1973 album
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateAugust 28, 2012

    I first saw Quadrophenia almost 20 years ago on a VHS tape and I thought it looked terrible. Criterion’s new Blu-Ray has shown me without question what I was missing. The transfer, taken from a 35mm interpositive and color graded under the supervision of cinematographer Brian Tufano, looks great. There is no question that this is a fairly dark, dour-looking film, but the high-definition presentation brings out all the detail in the image as well as the gradations of light and dark that simple look muddy in previous home video editions. Grain is still strongly present, which enhances the film’s kitchen-sink drama ethos. The original two-channel stereo soundtrack is included as an option on the disc, as is a newly remixed 5.1-channel surround soundtrack produced at 24-bit from both sound elements from The Who’s original album and the film. The result is a genuinely impressive soundtrack, one that puts the music front and center without letting it overwhelm the ambience of the filmic world.
    Criterion has come up with a robust set of supplements, beginning with an excellent and deeply informative screen-specific audio commentary by director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano. While Roddam focuses a great deal on the history presented in the film and its various themes, Tufano provides what could well be considered a primer on lighting and cinematography. There are also two new video interviews, one with Bill Curbishley, the film’s coproducer and The Who’s comanager, and one with The Who’s sound engineer, Bob Pridden, in which he discusses the creation of the new mix and also provides a restoration demonstration. From the archives Criterion has come up with a lengthy segment on the film from a 1979 episode of the BBC series Talking Pictures that features quite a bit of on-set footage and interviews with Roddam and Sting. For those wanting more historical information about the history of mods and rockers, the disc includes a segment from a 1964 episode of the French news program Sept jours du monde dedicated to the topic, as well a 1965 episode of the French youth-culture program Seize millions de jeunes about mod culture that also includes early footage of The Who. The thick insert booklet contains an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a 1985 personal history by original mod Irish Jack, and Pete Townshend’s liner notes from the 1973 album.

    Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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