Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Philip Davis, Mark Wingett, Sting, Ray Winstone
Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, Franc Roddam
We are the mods, we are the mods. We are, we are, we are the mods.
The Who’s classic rock opera Quadrophenia was the basis for this invigorating coming-of-age movie and depiction of the defiant, drug-fueled London of the early 1960s. Our antihero, Jimmy (Phil Daniels), is a teenager dissatisfied with family, work, and love, who identifies with the fashionable, pill-popping, scooter-driving mods, a group whose opposition to the motorcycle-riding rockers leads to a climactic riot in Brighton. Director Franc Roddam’s rough-edged film is a quintessential chronicle of youthful rebellion and turmoil, with Pete Townshend’s brilliant songs (including “I’ve Had Enough,” “5:15,” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”) providing emotional support, and featuring Sting and Ray Winstone in early roles.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English PCM Stereo 2.0
Runtime: 120 min.
Release Date: 8/28/2012
• Audio Commentary with Director Franc Roddam and Cinematographer Brian Tufano
• 1979 Talking Pictures BBC TV Segment
• 1964 Sept jours du monde French TV Segment
• 1965 Seize millions de jeunes French TV Segment
• Interview with Co-Producer Bill Curbishley
• Interview with Sound Engineer Bob Pridden
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Quadrophenia: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1979)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 27, 2012)
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 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/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 coolness make the experience a high for Jimmy.
After that, however, everything quickly goes downhill. 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 distracts me during Quadrophenia the movie, however, are 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 are 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, occurs when a copy of a double Who release called A Quick One/Happy Jack appears. Not only had neither album been recorded by the film’s time frame, but also the compilation in question - which paired two mid-late Sixties records - didn’t come out until 1974!
These factual errors seem 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; the facets 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 comes 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 doesn’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 bother me. Quadrophenia doesn’t seem to try to depict the “real” period of the mid-Sixties; instead, it substitutes 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 styles 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 male-oriented design. It was all about the individual and trying to top the other guy; that left little time for girls or relationships. Quadrophenia makes women look central to the culture, which apparently wasn’t the case.
In its favor, Quadrophenia offers a fairly believable and realistic semi-coming of age story. I admire the fact that it takes an unapologetically British perspective and doesn’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 can sound quite thick. Nonetheless, it’s a consistently interesting and provocative tale, though not the most coherent piece of storytelling.
But it isn’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 distract me. At its core, the movie offers a good look at teen culture and is fairly brutal in its depiction of such, but I think it fails 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.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B
Quadrophenia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While the image reflected the restrictions of the source material, I doubt the film’s ever looked beter.
Overall sharpness seemed fine. A little softness popped upon occasion, though that was one of many negative artifacts from the source; the movie came with heavy grain, and that tended to affect definition. Nonetheless, the movie usually seemed pretty concise and accurate, with no softness that could be called a problem.
I witnessed no signs of shimmering or jagged edges, and edge haloes weren’t a factor. With all the grain on display, it was obvious that no one attempted to tamper with the image via digital noise reduction, which came as a relief; attempts to “de-grain” the flick would’ve been a disaster. The transfer did manage to clean up the print in a satisfying manner, though, so it suffered from few problems; I noticed some scratches on the right side of the screen that began around 1:11:40 and persisted for a little while, but those were pretty much it in terms of defects.
Quadrophenia utilized a fairly drab palette, but it still brought out the colors as well as expected. The hues reflected the visual design and looked perfectly fine given those choices. This wasn’t a movie that wanted a bright, peppy production, and the dull, grimy look was reflected well.
Black levels were pretty dark and dense, and shadow detail usually looked clear. Poor Ferdy - the only black character - could disappear a little during some of the images due to the darkness, but that was yet another artifact of the original material and not an issue with the transfer. No one will ever use Quadrophenia as a film to show off their Blu-ray players, but the image remained intensely true to the source and delivered an accurate, appealing reproduction of the movie.
In addition to the film’s original stereo audio, the Blu-ray provided a newly created DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Quadrophenia that worked well. The multichannel soundscape didn’t attempt to go nuts, at least not in terms of its use of effects. These broadened in a compelling manner – especially during more action-oriented scenes or those at the sea – but the mixers didn’t try to make things excessively “modern”. This gave the soundfield a good sense of atmosphere and place without a fake, distracting feel.
Unsurprisingly, the music offered the most active use of the speakers, and that side of things worked well. At the film’s start, we got arguably the most “gimmicky” take on the songs, as the opening showed vocal elements that popped up in the various channels. Other tracks offered active use of the surrounds as well, but these felt pretty natural. They placed instruments in the different speakers to good advantage and opened up the tunes in an interesting manner.
Audio quality was more than acceptable given the limitations of the source. Speech couldn’t be called tremendously natural and I heard a little sibilance, but the lines were reasonably concise and clear; even with the thick accents, I found it easy enough to understand the material. Effects also weren’t particularly dynamic, but they showed reasonable definition and accuracy, without notable distortion along the way. The seaside riot scene worked the worst, mainly due to what sounded like crummy foley work; the material used for “running feet” resembled rats scurrying across a tin roof. That was the only auditory distraction, though.
As hoped, the music fared best of all. The songs tended to be vibrant and full, as they showed fine reproduction in all ways. Actually, I thought bass response could’ve been a little deeper, but overall dynamic range seemed good. In the end, I felt the 5.1 remix opened up the material well.
How does the Blu-ray compare with the DVD from 2001? In all ways, the 2012 Blu-ray blew away the old DVD. The audio was clearer and fuller, with a more engaging soundscape that lost the bleeding that could mar the DVD. Visuals came across as cleaner, tighter and better developed in all ways. The Blu-ray offered night and day improvements over the flawed DVD.
Note that in addition to the 5.1 remix, the Blu-ray also provides the film’s original PCM stereo soundtrack. I chose to evaluate the DTS-HD MA audio, however, because that’s what I rated when I reviewed the 2001 DVD; I wanted to keep things apples/apples, so I only evaluated the different 5.1 tracks.
The Criterion Blu-ray substitutes the extras from the 2001 DVD with its own materials. These open with a new audio commentary from director Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano. Both provide separate running, screen-specific chats tied together for this look at locations and photography, story, characters and adapting the album, cast and performances, Mod history and period details, music and visual design, stunts and action, the movie's legacy and some other areas.
From start to finish, the commentary delivers a broad, informative take on the film. Both participants throw in good info, though Roddam dominates. He seems energized by his re-examination of the movie and offers a peppy, involved discussion of the flick. The track virtually never sags and gives us a fun, useful glimpse at Quadrophenia.
A few archival pieces follow. From 1979, a segment from BBC TV’s Talking Pictures goes for 26 minutes, six seconds and features notes from Roddam, Roger Daltrey, actor Sting, and choreographer Jeff Dexter. Mostly the program takes us to the various sets to examine aspects of the shoot. It offers a decent “fly on the wall” perspective.
Two French programs from the 1960s appear under the banner of “Mods and Rockers”. We find 1964’s Sept jours du monde (8:19) and 1965’s Seize millions de jeunes (34:30). “Sept” gives us a quick look at the Mod/Rocker cultures via short chats with members of each side. “Seize” focuses entirely on Mods; it involves a couple of Mods – one male, one female – and also throws in comments from Pete Townshend and Who then-co-manager Kit Lambert. It also gives us some performances from the Who circa 1965.
“Sept” can be mildly interesting, but it lacks much perspective and drags due to its pretensions; it comes with too many statements such as one that refers to “the Sunday dullness that weighs England down like a lead cloak”. “Seize” works better, as it’s broader and more introspective. It gives us a nice look at the Mod culture, and the Who snippets add to the package. My only complaint is that it’s too bad they couldn’t strip off the band French translation of the English comments; we can sort of hear the original interviews in the background, but the poor translation tends to obscure them.
Two modern interviews arrive next. We hear from co-producer Bill Curbishley (13:42) and sound engineer Bob Pridden (7:49). Curbishley discusses the project’s roots and development, finding a director, casting, the film’s reception and afterlife, and aspects of Mod culture. Pridden goes over the new 5.1 mix and we also hear a comparison between that track and the original. That element seems a bit superfluous – can’t we already switch between 5.1 and stereo as the movie runs? – but I like Pridden’s insights. Curbishley is also quite informative, as he covers a nice variety of useful subjects.
In addition to two trailers, the package finishes with a 36-page booklet. It features an essay about the film from critic Howard Hampton, a mod history from “Irish Jack”, and Pete Townshend’s liner notes from the 1973 Quadrophenia album. All add value to the set.
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 Blu-ray delivers solid picture and audio along with a nice selection of supplements. Fans should eagerly embrace this Criterion release, as it’s an excellent reproduction of the film.
To rate this film, visit the original review of QUADROPHENIAE