The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection (Sexy Intellectual)
Like most youth movements, Mod fashion and culture is cyclical. What started as a response to traditionalist jazzboes has been hashed and rehashed again and re-imagined every ten years or so. While some of the music and fashion designers change from one wave to the next, the one thing that doesn’t is the pure Britishness of it all.
As an artist, Pete Townshend has a particular eye for revision. He also has a particular eye for trends and the Mod movements have been critical to The Who‘s development and legacy over the years. The band’s initial rise in England can be traced to its adoption of Mod clothing and attitudes. It’s ability to not simply wash out to sea like so many of its British Invasion contemporaries in the early 70s can be traced to it’s masterful recording of the era in another Townshend “rock opera” that helped spawn another Mod wave in 1973.
Quadrophenia doesn’t sound very much like Mod music, but it more importantly tells the story of disillusionment and disenchantment from a Mod’s point of view. What does it mean to be an individual when your persona is wrapped up group think? Who can you believe in when your heroes are louts too? Heady stuff, but The Who tackled it all and produced an epic album that still touches nerves in angry young men nearly 40 years later.
So it makes sense to look at how the Mod movement is tied to The Who and then how that shared history made for the creation of one of the band’s most revered albums. Too bad that’s not what you get in this documentary.
Compiled of interviews with various Mod scenesters and British pop culture personalities, it’s an interesting oral history of how the various waves developed, were co-opted and then ultimately pushed back underground to bubble up again a decade or so later. There’s also some cool vintage footage of early Who and a bit here and there about the production of the Quadrophenia album and subsequent film, but there are no interviews with band members, management, or producers so it’s a lot of conjecture and cute winks from Townshend friend, Richard Barnes.
Also featured are mod experts Paolo Hewitt and Terry Rawlins; the owner of Acid Jazz records, DJ and broadcaster, Eddie Pillar; members of Mod revivalists The Chords and The Purple Hearts; and Who biographer and 1960s expert (whatever that is), Alan Clayson.
The overall production of the film seems a bit amateurish with horrible lighting and video quality in most of the interviews. The use of archival footage is what saves the film though and there really are some gems from the early days of Mod and the formation of The Who.
If you already know a lot about The Who’s history you’re not likely to learn anything new from this film. If you have no idea what Mods are but you like skinny pants and turtle neck sweaters then you might pick up some fashion tips and learn a thing or two along the way. The rest of us will just have to wait for Paul Weller to make a film.
Video: The Who – “5.15” (TOTP 1973)