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Martin R. Smith
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey

The Who's seminal 1969 double album Tommy is a milestone in rock history. This new film explores the background, creation and impact of Tommy through new interviews with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, archive interviews with the late John Entwistle, and contributions from engineer Bob Pridden, artwork creator Mike McInnerney plus others involved in the creation of the album and journalists who assess the album s historic and cultural impact.

Not Rated

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English LPCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 3/11/2014

• “Beat Club 1969” TV Performances.


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Who: Sensation - The Making of Tommy [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 10, 2014)

One of rock’s most legendary albums undergoes examination via a 2013 documentary called The Who: Sensation – The Story of “Tommy”. This follows a standard format in which we see performance clips and archival images combined with old and new interviews.

In the latter category, we hear from Who members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, friend/biographer Richard Barnes, music journalists/authors David Wild, and Chris Welch, Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis, former Who manager Chris Stamp, sound engineer Bob Pridden, friend/filmmaker Richard Stanley, friend/artist Mike McInnerney, Rolling Stone founder/publisher Jann Wenner and Broadway production director Des McAnuff. We also get archival comments from Who members John Entwistle and Keith Moon as well as former manager Kit Lambert.

Sensation looks at the status of the Who pre-1969 as well the origins of Tommy. From there the show covers the content of the album and inspirations for the songs along with aspects of its recording and release. We also learn about the album’s reception and legacy.

Over the last 45 years, Townshend, Daltrey and company have covered this ground many, many times. For much of the Who’s existence, Tommy seemed to be regarded as the band’s pinnacle, and it generated a variety of spin-off projects like a 1970s Ken Russell movie and a 1990s Broadway musical.

I suspect the tide has turned and other albums like Quadrophenia and Who’s Next garner more respect. Heck, Sell Out might now have a better reputation than Tommy, though that might just be among more “serious” Who fans.

Whatever the case, Tommy remains a focal point of the Who’s legacy; it wasn’t a coincidence that after they split in 1982, they reunited for 20th anniversary Tommy tour in 1989. (Actually, they played Live Aid in 1985, but that came across as a one-off, not a “formal reunion” ala the 1989 tour.)

Given all that attention since 1969, I don’t know if Sensation can bring much – if anything – new to the table. Whether or not we learn fresh information here, the documentary packages these details well.

Of course, the participation of the band’s two surviving members helps, and Townshend dominates the program. That makes sense, as Pete wrote the songs and was the main factor behind the album’s concept/execution. I don’t intend to diminish the importance of the other band members, but Towmnshend spearheaded and led the project, so he gives us the most significant information about it.

Daltrey gets in some good notes as well, though he tends more toward the technical side of the street; whereas Townshend speaks of songwriting, meaning and influences, Daltrey sticks more with the mechanics of creating the album. The other participants mesh the two sides; while they lack the internal insights we locate from Townshend, they provide good perspective about the album and the era.

Townshend has always been a great interview subject, as he seems to find it impossible to pussyfoot around topics. I don’t believe this means everything Towmshend says is true; I suspect Townshend tells his version of reality, and that may or may not connect accurately to actual events. Nonetheless, he’s fascinating to hear due to his willingness to say what he thinks apparently without much of an internal filter.

As a documentary, Sensation follows a standard format, and I appreciate that. It doesn’t attempt to be clever-clever, and I think that makes sense, as it means the show focuses on information rather than quirky visuals. It moves at a good pace as it covers the subject matter in a logical, concise way.

I could pick some nits with Sensation but not many. While I won’t call it the most dynamic rock documentary I’ve seen, it provides a solid examination of its subject matter and covers the topics well.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C

The Who: Sensation – The Story of “Tommy” appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a good presentation given the format.

Like most documentaries, Sensation mixed archival footage and modern interviews. For the new material, sharpness appeared crisp and detailed. The picture looked consistently clear and accurate during interviews. Focus was more problematic in the older clips, however, as they demonstrated occasional issues. Some of the videos and concert footage also came across as a bit indistinct, but those incidents weren’t unusual – or avoidable.

The program displayed no significant jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also saw no evidence of edge enhancement. Source flaws were most obvious in the archival clips, as they could have specks and marks. The new shots were clean.

Documentaries of this sort tend to feature fairly subdued colors since they take place in studios and other indoor settings. Sensation followed those lines, as the tones looked fine but not terribly dynamic. Black levels looked fairly deep and rich for the new stuff, while shadow detail appeared clear and accurate. Overall, you won’t view Sensation for its dynamic visuals, but it represented the original material pretty well.

Similar feelings came with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Sensation. Not surprisingly, this mix stayed with a front-oriented presence that largely hewed to the original stereo presentation of the music. Virtually everything other than the songs stayed in the center; I detected no evidence of effects or dialogue from anywhere other than the middle speaker. The music showed good stereo separation and also used the rear speakers in a moderate fashion.

Audio quality was somewhat erratic but generally positive. Dialogue was reasonably natural and distinct. As for the effects, well, there really weren’t any; this production featured music and dialogue almost exclusively. Tommy fared best of all, as they showed nice clarity and depth. Archival footage worked acceptably well, though of course it displayed a fair amount of variation. Those segments were usually clear but could be somewhat thin and flat. As a whole, the audio seemed good but unexceptional, largely due to the variety of source materials.

One extra appears here, as Beat Club features a collection of TV performances. Recorded September 27, 1969 in Bremen, Germany, this black and white compilation lasts 32 minutes, 45 seconds. It shows the Who as they mime their way through nine of the album’s tracks. Interspersed among these tunes, we get interview clips with Pete Townshend.

Pete’s comments become easily the most interesting aspect of the program. The band segments offer some mild intrigue but nothing more since the Who just lip-synchs the song performances; those moments would be great if they delivered actual live material, but the pantomime becomes tedious much of the time.

On the other hand, Townshend gives us a solid look at the album. Of course, he offers many reflections on it in the main documentary, but I like the chance to hear him discuss it in 1969 when it was fresh. Happily, the disc bookmarks the interview segments, so we can access them with ease. I think the whole “Beat Club” section is a nice addition; even with the semi-dullness of the lip-synch items, it’s still cool to find here.

While I don’t know how much “new information” comes from a look at a 45-year-old rock album, The Who: Sensation – The Story of “Tommy” provides a concise look at the subject. It touches on all the appropriate bases in a winning way as it examines the creation of a classic work. The Blu-ray brings us good picture and audio along with some interesting archival materials. Who fans will definitely want to check out this high-quality documentary.

Viewer Film Ratings: -- Stars Number of Votes: 0
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