From A Hard Day’s Night:
Reporter: Are you a mod, or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I'm a mocker.
A quick history for the uninitiated: the mods created a subculture within the England of the Sixties. Focused most strongly in London, they pursued the newest fashions with a relentless appetite and loved to party to the sounds of American R&B like the music from Motown. To keep their activities moving without stop, they gobbled down tons of “uppers” and kept moving with the tastes that changed at an insanely rapid pace.
The mods embraced an empty and superficial culture that arose from post-war stinginess; with money in their pocket, they rebelled against the “save, save, save” culture of their parents. They really were about nothing more than fashion, and they’d take day jobs just to fuel the ridiculous numbers of clothes alterations and purchases they had to make. Mods split between “faces” - the leaders who set the trends - and “tickets” - the followers who tried to keep up with them and who hoped to eventually become faces themselves.
Eventually the culture largely died by the end of the Sixties, but an odd revival occurred in the late Seventies. Fueled by bands like the Jam, the mods returned as a cultural force, but in a different way. Whereas the styles favored by the Sixties mods kept changing, the Seventies versions went for a stereotypical notion of what their predecessors had favored. Those concepts - such as the Vespa scooters, the parkas and other bits - came to be seen as the heart of mod, and the culture didn’t change after that; these mods definitely didn’t rush to change with new fashions.
1979’s Quadrophenia went a long way toward this concrete idea of what was and wasn’t mod. Based on the 1973 album by the Who, Quadrophenia tells the tale of Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a young man alienated toward much of his life. He doesn’t relate to his parents, he has trouble getting with the desired girls, and everything seems like a dead end. Jimmy embraces the mod culture for it seems like the only way he can belong to anything, though even his connections there cause him trouble.
The first half of Quadrophenia mainly sets up the characters of Jimmy and his friends, among whom are sexy Steph (Leslie Ash). Though she seems interested in Jimmy as well, the two don’t hook up until the mods head to Brighton’s beach for a bank holiday. While there, the mods clash with their enemies the rockers - greasers who favor Fifties rock and motorcycles to the mods’ R&B and Vespas - and start a riot. Jimmy bangs Steph in an alley before he gets arrested alongside his idol, the Ace Face (Sting). Though the legal wranglings should be a downer, Ace’s attitude and cool make the experience a high for Jimmy.
After that, however, everything quickly goes downhill for him. Jimmy quits his job, loses Steph, and alienates his friends. The biggest blow of all occurs when he returns to Brighton, the site of his greatest moments. There he sees Ace schlepping luggage as a hotel bellboy. Disgusted and bitter, Jimmy steals Ace’s scooter and heads toward… Well, I won’t relate the whole story, other than to note it slightly differs from the ending of the tale told on the album.
The film version of Quadrophenia seems somewhat incoherent at times, but since the record’s plot wasn’t exactly crystal clear, I won’t complain. The two run fairly parallel, though some differences occur. What most distracted me during Quadrophenia the movie, however, were its inaccuracies.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the mod culture, but I know enough to find problems with the way it’s depicted in Quadrophenia. On the obvious side of the coin were the cultural artifacts that didn’t exist during the time period depicted. Quadrophenia took place in 1964, but we see and hear a lot of material from the Who. No, I don’t refer to the Quadrophenia album tracks that crop up during the movie; I mean the club presentation of “My Generation” and the Ready Steady Go performance of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, neither of which existed until 1965. Easily the worst mistake, however, occurred when a copy of a double Who release called A Quick One/Happy Jack appeared. Not only had neither album been recorded yet, but the compilation in question - which paired two mid-late Sixties records - didn’t come out until years later!
These factual errors seemed surprising given the band’s involvement in the piece, but I would assume some liberties were taken. After all, the Who were the unofficial spokesmen for mod, even though most of the members really never were mods themselves. Nonetheless, they were promoted as the mod band, and the album Quadrophenia was Pete Townshend’s nod to that era. Jimmy himself was supposed to represent the four musicians in the Who; each facet of his personality related to each member of the band.
In the movie, however, Jimmy feels more like a doppelganger for Townshend. For one, Phil Daniels bears a minor resemblance to Pete, and the character came across mostly as a stand-in for Townshend’s own psychological confusions. Largely gone are the complexities of Jimmy intended from the album. While the movie’s supposed to make him seem like he’s more screwed-up than his peers, frankly, he didn’t appear to be much different than the other kids. A little more intense, perhaps, but not the “quadrophenic” psychological mess meant from the record.
Daniels does a good job in the part as he brings depth to the role not found in the script, but I must admit the movie’s departures from the mod culture bothered me. Quadrophenia didn’t seem to try to depict the “real” period of the mid-Sixties; instead, it substituted the revamped mod ideals of the late Seventies. We see few signs of the mods as rabid followers of fashion; they seem to wear the same things all the time and don’t really appear to care about that area beyond their parkas and Vespas.
In addition, the mod culture apparently had relatively little time for females. Part of this had to do with the fact the mods were all so hepped up on goofballs that they couldn’t perform well sexually, but it was also a very guy-oriented design. It was all about the individual and trying to top the other guy; that left little time for girls or relationships. Quadrophenia made women look central to the culture, which apparently wasn’t the case.
In its favor, Quadrophenia offered a fairly believable and realistic semi-coming of age story. I admired the fact that it took an unapologetically British perspective and didn’t dumb itself down for other eyes and ears; I’d imagine that a lot of the movie might be nonsensical to those with little or no acquaintance with the mods. Even for folks who do know something of the times, the accents could sound quite thick, and the DVD’s lack of subtitles and closed-captioning made it rough-going at times. Nonetheless, it was a consistently interesting and provocative piece, though not the most coherent piece of storytelling.
But it wasn’t a terrifically real representation of the mods, at least not according to what I know of the culture. I admit that this may be an instance in which I have trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but some of the creative liberties taken during Quadrophenia genuinely distracted me. At its core, the movie offered a good look at teen culture and was fairly brutal in its depiction of such, but I thought it failed to capture the intended time frame as well as possible.
Trivia note: apparently the makers of Chicken Run loved Quadrophenia, for a few of the latter’s cast members appeared in the former. Daniels played Fetcher the rat, and Timothy Spall voiced his friend Nick. In addition, Benjamin Whitrow did the lines for Fowler. I suppose this may have been a coincidence, but I doubt it.
Quadrophenia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions, although the back cover implied that it was. I’ve heard that this DVD of Quadrophenia greatly improved upon prior versions of the film in regard to picture quality. If that’s true, I’d hate to see them, for this package looked fairly bad for the most part.
Sharpness looked erratic. During much of the film, the image appeared reasonably accurate but it tended to be mildly soft. Only a few sequences suffered from distinct fuzziness, though, as most just seemed slightly indistinct; the sharpness wasn’t way off, but it lacked great clarity and definition. Some moiré effects and jagged edges cropped up at times, and I also saw some fairly heavy edge enhancement on occasion. The opening shot of Jimmy on the beach definitely displayed haloes, and a number of other sequences - such as the courtroom bit or the segment in which Jimmy’s mother rouses him - offered similar concerns.
Quadrophenia utilized a fairly flat palette, but even so, the colors looked very drab and lifeless. Throughout the flick the hues seemed to be pale and they lacked any depth or definition. When red lighting cropped up in a club, it appeared somewhat heavy and runny. Black levels were acceptable dark and dense, and shadow detail usually looked acceptably clear, but a number of low-light shots came across as too thick and impenetrable. Poor Ferdy - the only black character - simply disappeared during some of the images due to the darkness.
Without question, the biggest problem found on Quadrophenia stemmed from print flaws. The movie got off to a terrible start with its opening shots of Jimmy on the beach; that scene showed so many defects that it looked like somewhat had run over it with a truck. The situation improved from there, but not as much as I would have liked. A large mix of concerns still cropped up throughout the movie. Grain pervaded much of the film, and I also saw many examples of speckles, grit, scratches, blotches, and general debris. Ultimately, Quadrophenia never became unwatchable, but I still found it to offer a generally unsatisfying visual experience.
The newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Quadrophenia improved upon the picture, but it showed a lot of issues as well. On the positive side, the film’s soundfield seemed to be surprisingly broad and engaging. For the most part, the imaging remained fairly centered, and even when the audio spread from the middle, it still stayed strongly oriented toward the front; surrounds were used sparingly and only appeared to give general reinforcement to music and some effects.
Within the forward spectrum, however, the music displayed fairly solid stereo separation. The songs weren’t tremendously well defined within their channels, but they seemed to be acceptably delineated. Effects offered decent general ambience throughout the movie, and they became quite distinct at times. The atmosphere in the clubs and at parties worked well, but the best aspect related to the scooters and motorcycles. These were placed accurately within the spectrum, and they actually moved between channels with solid smoothness.
My only complaint about the soundfield related to the dialogue. At times, speech bled from the center to the sides. This didn’t occur relentlessly, but it occurred much more frequently than I’d expect, and it became a distraction. Overall, however, the soundfield of Quadrophenia worked quite nicely.
Where I encountered the most significant problems related to the quality of the audio, as Quadrophenia was something of a mess in that regard. Dialogue consistently appeared tinny and thin, and it displayed a moderate amount of edginess. Within the parameters of the thick accents, the lines usually remained intelligible, but they lacked any natural or warm tones. Effects also were generally trebly and rough, though they boasted some fairly good depth at times; the rumble of the motorbikes came across well.
Probably the biggest disappointment related to the quality of the music. The songs from the Quadrophenia album sounded pretty bland and flat for the most part. They lacked much depth and basically just seemed thin and lifeless. Granted, Quadrophenia was never the best-sounding album in the world, though I never heard the remix created by John Entwistle for the movie, so I don’t know how they compare. I do know that the music heard on the DVD lacks power and clarity, and it seemed rather drab. In addition, the audio showed some light hiss much of the time. The surprisingly involving soundfield gave Quadrophenia some bonus points, but the fairly weak audio quality knocked it back down a few pegs. As such, I felt the soundtrack deserved a “C” to balance the highs and lows.
Despite the rather low profile maintained by Quadrophenia, Rhino have created a surprisingly full special edition DVD. First up we get an audio commentary from director Franc Roddam, who provides a running, moderately screen-specific track. Roddam proves to be a fairly engaging presence who discusses many aspects of making the film and a slew of additional facts during this piece. He occasionally touches on topics related to the on-screen action, which is why I called the track “moderately screen-specific”. However, much of the time he goes off on interesting tangents related to the movie, such as his experiences with mods in the Sixties, dealing with the Who, and information about the actors. Overall, this was a very chatty and informative piece.
In addition to this audio commentary, we find a trivia track. This uses the subtitle area as it provides a mix of little factoids that relate to the film. Some of these are helpful, such as translations of British slang heard in the movie and descriptions of some of its locations. Occasional tidbits about the flick itself appear as well as minor biographical notes about some actors. A lot of the remarks fall into “Pop-Up Video” territory, such as a discussion of the origin of ketchup. Overall, I thought the “trivia track” was moderately interesting.
I question at least one of the track’s statements, though. According to the DVD, Roger Daltrey’s stuttering during “My Generation” occurred because he fumbled the lines when he first read it; the band liked the effect and kept it. However, I’d always heard that the stuttering appeared to emulate the speech patterns of the average pill-popping mod; the uppers they took led to similar vocal disfluencies. I don’t know which explanation is correct, but I thought I’d point out the discrepancy.
Moving on, we find the film’s original theatrical trailer and an Interview With Sting. The only cast member to go on to true stardom, Der Stingle shows up in what appears to be a fairly recent piece. During the five-minute and 50-second clip, Sting discusses how he became involved in the flick and also relates his impressions of the movie. He seems surprisingly self-effacing and warm during this short but interesting program.
The Vespa Mini-Documentary offers a 90-second piece about the scooters. If you think that “mini-documentary” means “nonsensical compilation of random images”, then this is the program for you! It runs a mix of vintage Vespa clips - most of which seem to come from ads - with some hep-cat music and makes the whole thing a mess. I don’t know what the point of it was, but it succeeded only if it was meant to confuse and addle.
Rhino’s Film Restoration lets you examine improvements made to the film for this DVD. There’s a 75-second “Video Sample” and three scenes that allow you to compare the original audio mix with the 5.1 track. The former does show visible differences, mainly due to improved color definition. In regard to the “Audio Sample”, it was hard to compare the two, for the 5.1 mix was substantially louder than the original track. The latter did seem clearer and better defined, but it also was somewhat unnatural. Anyway, the comparisons were difficult due to the volume differences, so it was harder to make a firm decision about the relative superiority of either track.
London to Brighton: Go for a Drive packs this trek into a quick video program. The 60-mile journey is compressed into a five and a half minute travelogue. You can watch the accelerated video trip or follow it via a moving map; the angle button lets you flip between them. Along the way, the image occasionally pauses for some noteworthy sites and a few not-so-noteworthy bits, like the “English Granny”. I found this to be an oddly entertaining and compelling extra.
Next we get a quiz called Are You a Mod or a Rocker? This piece offers a series of three-choice questions, and at the end, it tells you if you’re a mod, a rocker, or neither. Each result has its own humorous result as well. It’s insubstantial but fun.
Cast and Filmmakers includes short biographies for actors Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Ray Winstone, Sting, and Toyah Willcox as well as director Roddam and the Who. The latter concentrates on their film work and doesn’t attempt a true band history. Their material is also covered in a “Selected Discography” that includes very basic information about some of their albums. After that we find a “British Mod Film Compendium”, which sets it apart from all those Czech mod films. Anyway, this text piece offers short descriptions of a slew of flicks that connect to the mod scene, however loosely.
The Photo Gallery provides a mix of stills. “Publicity Photos” shows 23 black and white shots from the set, while “Franc Roddam’s Continuity Polaroids” includes 47 shots that show the actors in various stages. “Memorabilia” concludes with five posters and ads. These are a neat little addition that can also be viewed as a running slide show of all three areas.
Quadrophenia packs some Easter eggs, even though they’re listed in the disc’s packaging. From the main menu, highlight the “Q” in the film’s title by going left from the “extras” indication and you’ll access the “Riot Button”. This seemed like cross-pollination from the Chicken Run DVD, which had a “Panic Button”; hit this one and you’ll see a few seconds of movie riot footage. The clips change if you hit the button more than once.
Within the “British Mod Film Compendium” section, click “up” on the page that shows Billy Liar and A Hard Day’s Night and you’ll find six screens of Quadrophenia movie reviews. In the “Still Gallery”, go to “Publicity Photos”. On the fourth shot of that section, go “up” and you’ll get advice on how to dress like a mod. Also within the “Still Gallery”, head to “Franc Roddam's Continuity Polaroids”. When you reach the fourth one, go “up” and you’ll get a screen with one photo of a Vespa and another of a Lambretta. The review snippets are mildly interesting, but they’d have been better had we seen the full articles. The other two are cute but superficial.
Overall, I had some problems with Quadrophenia as a movie, but I thought it offered a generally solid and compelling experience. It featured some inaccuracies but it managed to capture the spirit and tone of an era nicely. The DVD, on the other hand, had a lot of concerns, as it displayed fairly weak picture and sound, though it included a pretty positive roster of extras. In the end, Quadrophenia boasts a long-term cult following, and despite some problems with the quality of the presentation, they should still be pleased with this DVD.