Friday, December 06, 2002

I just got Quadrophenia on DVD for Chanukah.  I've already seen the movie at least half a dozen times but was gleeful to watch it again.  I love this movie, unlike so many rock movies which leaving me waffling, "Well, it was good in spots, and it was interesting how they mixed fact and fiction, but I wouldn't say it was great."

For example, there's Grace of My Heart.  It answered the music question that I don't think anyone but Allison Anders even thought to ask, "What would have happened if Carole King had married Brian Wilson."  Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach wrote an exquisitely moving song, "God Give Me Strength," that was the centerpiece of the soundtrack.  Illeana Douglas has a fascinatingly elusive beauty.  One minute, she's stunning; the next, she's all bugged-eyed and Tori Spelling-like.  Of course, the characters weren't really Carole and Brian, just a '60s Brill Building pop songcrafter turned '70s singer/songwriter and a '60s pop harmonizer turned nutcase, but it was fun trying figure out how much or little sprung from Anders' head.

Velvet Goldmine followed a similar vein but with a better soundtrack overall.  It resurrected the glam rock era by following the friendship between the David Bowie-like Brian Slade and Curt Wild,an amalgam of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Jagger with a visual dash of Kurt Cobain.  The glittering early '70s costumes by Sandy Powell were fabulous, more imaginative that the ones for Shakespeare In Love, for which she won the Oscar the same year.  The reimagining of how Bowie reinvented himself in the '80s was clever.  And I went running home to consult my rock biographies to figure out how much or little sprung from writer/director Todd Haynes' head.  But it wasn't quite a great movie.

More recently, 24 Hour Party People presented the history of Tony Wilson, Factory Records and the Manchester music scene in the '70s and '80s.  Unlike Grace of My Heart and Velvet Goldmine, this one overtly depicted real people.  The actors playing Ian Curtis of Joy Division  and Happy Mondays' lead singer Shaun Ryder rather resembled the actual people, although the guy playing Peter Hook looked nothing like him other than being white, male and about the right age.  Ostensibly an accurate history, the movie's best humor was derived from acknowledging that they were fictionalizing some events to make for a better story.  It was interesting because I wanted to know the story behind music I care about, but it still wasn't quite a great movie.

Which brings me back to Quadrophenia.  The biggest reason it's a great rock movie is because it isn't about the music.  The music, the Who's brilliant concept album, forms the basis for the story, the coming-of-age saga of '60s London Mod Jimmy. The music is central the Mod worldview; it's who you are because it's so tied to the choice of fashions, drugs, transport and hang-outs.  The film is an unvarnished look at someone struggling to define his identity.  Yes, there are fab clothes, spiffy scooters and great songs but also bad skin and awkward physiques.

I've probably only seen Tommy in its entirety once and have no desire to sit through the camp fest again, but I can't wait to watch Quadrophenia with the director's commentary and trivia tracks.

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