Quadrophenia (UK, 1979)

quadrophenia-poster-artwork-phil-daniels-leslie-ash-philip-davisDirected by: Franc Roddam. I guess I’m missing the The Who gene. I was really interested in getting interested in The Who lately, and I always meant to see this movie, especially in this fancy Criterion box. But, lo and behold, this movie is a classic example of the packaging, the presentation, the outer cultural interpretation, etc, etc, etc, making a movie out to be a lot better than it really is. I don’t know why, but I was expecting it to have something to do with time travel, something Doctor Who-like, something a bit more surreal and cheesy and sci-fi, or at least grander in scale to fit the epithet of “rock opera.” Instead, it’s more or less just a shitty motorcycle movie. This is meant to be, I’m sure, a loose, disorganized, unfocused, inarticulate, poorly made film: a terrible film in a good way. I get that, but I can’t shake the feeling that it is, in fact, just a bad movie. You can see from a mile away what the cinematic precedent and vocabulary they’re going for would be—French New Wave strained through disaffected youth culture, rebellion against authority. But to me, the film kind of failed. The protagonist’s shitty attitude, overly possessive and selfish, mindlessly destructive because he’s misunderstood—by his parents, his school, and ultimately even his friends—is supposed to be an indictment against society rather than just a showcase of a shitty teenager. But, as ineloquent as my assessment of this beleaguered youth’s journey from hardship through the cynical conclusion of his life may be, I just didn’t see much to empathize with. Where Belmondo’s Michel in Breathless or Jimmy Cliff’s Ivan in The Harder They Come are masked by a certain inscrutability, Jimmy here (Phil Daniels, who, unlike Ray Winstone or Phil Davis, was completely unfamiliar to me) is a bundle of obvious and unsubtle emotion. To form a generalization that people will maybe disagree with and that I might have to qualify later, the inarticulate immaturity of the protagonist’s youthful rebellion ought to come off as a strength—the shiftless, misunderstood, irreverent central shithead ought to be the most noble and “authentic” character in the moral landscape, and his early death ought to feel like a death blow not just to some shitty kid, but to the integrity of the world itself, of society at large. The disaffected youth should demonstrate the corruption of the world into which the youth were born, rather than just demonstrate the story of a single individual who is bothered by something and kills himself because of it. Perhaps we’re meant to wonder what that something is—-the phony posturing, the callousness, the uncaring of the surrounding world—but none of that stuff seems to me to be so much more unbearable than the phony posturing, callousness and uncaring of the protagonist. So I guess it’s up to you whether the fact that I didn’t give a shit when Jimmy finally drove his motorcycle off the cliffs of Dover is because I’m a terrible person or because it’s a bad movie.


One response to “Quadrophenia (UK, 1979)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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