This is a Modern World

On the eve of Quadrophenia’s release, the Who’s most articulate message finds a new audience


Rhino Records is releasing the Who’s Quadrophenia on DVD in September and the film is enjoying a limited theater release to celebrate. After countless viewings of the film on an old VHS bootleg, I recently saw the film for the first time on the big screen last week and was again taken back to my own days of teenage angst and Anglophilia.

Originally released in 1979, Quadrophenia was slated to be the last word on England’s Mod scene of the mid-60s from the pretenders to the throne of Modfatherhood, the Who. Loosely based on the album of the same name, the film stands on its own and succeeds where other rock movies failed. It’s not an extended music video like the Who’s earlier venture Tommy. It’s not a vanity plate like Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s not a vehicle to promote the career of a singer-turned-bad-actress like any one of Madonna’s embarrassing films. And it’s not an art film like those produced by many of the Who’s brethren of the 60s, including the Rolling Stones (the simultaneously exhilarating and disappointingly tedious Sympathy for the Devil). In fact, the movie may have suffered for its affiliation with the Who. Its producers’ audience couldn’t possibly take it seriously as a movie because of the above-mentioned attempts.

Quadrophenia follows Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) through the trials of teendom where young adolescent males discover some of the hardest truths of life: working sucks, you don’t always get the girl (even when you DO!), and your heroes have day jobs.

Excellent performances by Daniels and exquisite Mod Girl Steph (Leslie Ash) bring to the screen the complex rules and disappointments of young love. The story unfolds as Jimmy struggles to find his own identity in a peer group rigid with conformity. His affiliation with the Mods is strengthened in a weekend trip to the resort town of Brighton where he falls in love; fights for his gang; and meets his hero, played with utmost restraint by Glono’s own favorite corporate hack Sting in his pre-Jaguar days (the scenes of him on a Vespa GS could just as easily act as a commercial for the ultimate Modmobile, but that’s for another day). Everything he believes about being a Mod is confirmed in that quick, violent weekend.

Those beliefs are just as quickly challenged upon Jimmy’s return home to London’s working class Flatbush district. Jimmy attempts to recapture his ideals in a desperate, pill-headed return to Brighton. The trip is introduced by a genius nod to the Beatles’ Hard Days Night train scene with Jimmy riding first class among the very suits and “third class tickets” he hates. Jimmy arrives only to have his dreams further dashed on the rocks of the Brighton shoreline.

Quadrophenia acts as the ultimate guy movie from the ultimate guy band, but not because of the violence, sex and ass kicking rock and roll. It speaks to most guys, American or British, through its portrayal of the confusion and uncertainty of teenage soul searching. In a time when most guys are struggling hard to project an image furthest from their true self, Quadrophenia asks “Can you see the real me?”

7 thoughts on “This is a Modern World”

  1. Well put.

    Question: Although there is certainly the, well, group who will be interested in Quad from the standpoint of nostalgia, how many teens today are likely to pick up on the disc? In fact, I’m wondering how many of them might even be aware of The Who. I note that on the “WB” TV net they’re using “My Generation” with a group of kids who look like they want to grow up to be cast in Gap ads; the irony seems to be lost on the net (or maybe there’s some jaded copywriter who is getting a bit of revenge at the expense of AOL-TimeWarner). I suspect that asked about The Who there would be a variant of the Abbott & Costello “Who’s On First” routine.

    Excuse me. I’ve got to go carry the bloody baggage out.

  2. Well, I guess we’ll have to see. The recent introduction of the Who into the commercial huckster certainly exposes the group to some kids who have permantly deleted all classic rock stations from the radios in their X-Terras. Can’t Explain is catchy and light enough to attract the attention of the pop lovers and Won’t Get Fooled Again is aggresive enough to enrage the rap-metalheads. Once they’re hooked they might just find the depth of the Who. Or they might totally miss it. Don’t forget, the Jam was founded in the midst of the punk movement. Tagged as a Who revivalist, Paul Weller used tp wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the statement “How can I be revisionist when I’m only 19 years old?” Of course, Weller WAS a revisionist. He’d discovered the power of the Who just as its soul (Keith Moon) was dying. He injected his youth into the architecture that Townshend et al designed and spawned the 1 st Mod revival in 1978. Don’t worry Gary, the kids are alright.

  3. The girl can’t help it:

    Madonna To Star in Husband’s New Movie

    Madonna and Ritche try for another successful partnership

    by Sheila Green

    LOS ANGELES, CA. Mon 7.30.2001 / — The last time Madonna worked on a movie with a husband the year was 1986, the husband was Sean Penn, and the result was Shanghai Surprise. We all remember how that turned out, but Madonna and new husband Guy Ritchie hope their partnership turns out better.

    After all, Madonna and Ritchie have worked well together before. He directed her “What It Feels Like For A Girl” video and in a short internet flick for BMW. Their new movie is said to be a remake of the 1975 Italian love story Swept Away.

    Chances are it won’t be as good as Quadrophenia either. Don’t the terrible reviews ever get to her? Seriously. Madonna is a bad actress. B-A-D.

  4. Damn straight.

    I won’t pretend I can fully appreciate the era which the film strives to recreate, nor the era in which it was released, for that matter – I was only 6 – but I guarantee that the significance of the new disc will be lost on the majority of the DVD-hoarding populus, that being teens with more pocket cash than they know what to do with, even *after* and afternoon at Aeropastale.

    Oh, and thanks, Phil – for my first exposure to the film. That was an early example for me that anything you’re that passionate about has to be pretty damn fresh. -J

  5. Well, I still cling to the belief that somewhere out there are thousands of kids damned sick of the dreck they’re getting from corporate radio. They may stumble across the cool cover of Quadrophenia in Block Buster and decide to rent it for kicks. Then they’ll find out the Who was more than Love Reign O’er Me or Bargain. They may even take the Mod path to the Jam or go WAY back to the Faces and Pretty Things. Irish Jack would be proud.

  6. Ah, Quadrophenia. I went through my own mod phase, paying outrageous sums for British clothing labels like Ben Sherman and Fred Perry; I grooved to the tunes of Marvin Gaye and the Small Faces and sported a parka stapled with Who and Jam buttons. My girlfreind at the time asked me why I insisted on having what she called “an oasis haircut”. I couldn’t be bothered to answer.

    The re-release of Quadrophenia is a gift from the Gods. Just as you were used to a battered bootleg, I made do with a terrible version that I ordered from some rare- video shop. Often times I would cut the movie short in teenage frustration and storm off to listen to ALL MOD CONS by The Jam.

    Thanks for an insightful look at a movie that was certainly influential on my musical life.

    Bobby Fowler, [email protected]

  7. For those in Chicago, Piaggio USA has a new Vespa Boutique in the city. It’s in, of course, Lincoln Park, on Diversey near Clark, I think.

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