[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]
The movie starts out with a pretty good indication of what itâ€™s going to be made of: A young man stares out over the golden ocean towards the sun, then turns and walks toward the camera, his silhouette remaining in the streak of sun on the waves. The camera tilts slightly so the sun is in the middle of the frame, and we cut suddenly to the front headlight of a motor scooter, charging forward at the reeling camera and driven by the same young man. Energy: thatâ€™s what Quadrophenia is about and what it is made up of. The characters in the story, British kids in the early-to-mid-Sixties, pour their energies into pills, violence, and sex, and into the collective search for self that found its expression in being part of a groupâ€”in this case, either of two extremist music factions: the rockers (getting behind Gene Vincent and traditional rockâ€™nâ€™roll) or the mods (The Who and the Kinks). We focus on one denizen of this world, a boy, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), who finds a more important family within the mods than he does at home, and who is happiest when popping blues and starting fights. Director Franc Roddam manages to make Jimmy a sympathetic character as we examine his isolation amid the spurious togetherness of the mods, and his search for identity. Yet unlike the James Dean character in Rebel without a Cause (which this film echoes occasionally), Jimmy doesnâ€™t always seem to be aware of his own pathetic state. If he were a little more detached from his situation, we would at least have the feeling that there was a chance heâ€™d break out of it. A shot of Jimmy sitting on his scooter, as we see his face reflected from four different angles in the rearview mirrors surrounding him, sums up his fragmentation: different sides, no center. His parents, who cannot understand (his father asks him â€œWho do yer think yâ€™are, anyway?â€â€”and Jimmy honestly does not know); the advertising agency for which he works, which manufactures images of phony-pretty reality; and his group, with their desperate/exultant dance after a riot, chanting â€œWe are the mods!â€ repeatedlyâ€”they are all, as Rebelâ€™s Jim had it, â€œtearing him apart.â€
This search for an identity is not a new story but Roddam keeps this version (produced by The Who) directorially exciting: the film gives off energy far more disciplined than that which the characters expend. Thereâ€™s one terrific sequence as Jimmy and his pals crash a party: as he enters the doorway the camera proceeds to case the joint in a single take just as Jimmy cases it (the detail in this scene is nice, even down to the weird greenish light coming out of the kitchen). When Jimmy enters the main room where the other kids are dancing, the camera follows him in and leaves him to pull off a 360-degree pan, settling back on Jimmy. A couple of minutes later, Jimmy interrupts a slow dance by disgustedly taking off the sappy â€œRhythm of the Rainâ€ and slapping the Whoâ€™s vicious â€œMy Generationâ€ on the turntable. As he walks out he flips off the lights and, for a good half-minute or so, the camera just watches the dancers, now frenziedly bobbing up and down in the half-darkness to the beat of this new sound. Their anger is suddenly given voice and they are unconcerned with the fact that, by channeling their energies straight up and down in hop after hop, they move neither forward nor backward. Jimmy comes to understand that in his life he is moving backwardsâ€”he says as much in the dialogueâ€”and canâ€™t accept an identity amounting to one in a group. â€œMe!â€ he shouts out over the cliffs of Dover, but he is denied even an echo. At the end, the film presents him as weightless; there is not even a visual acknowledgement of his presence during his final action. Like Wellesâ€™s Mr. Arkadin, Jimmy Cooper simply isnâ€™t there any more. Only his (borrowed) vehicle remains, riding air.
© 1980 Robert Horton
Direction: Franc Roddam. Screenplay: Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, Franc Roddam. Musical direction: John Entwistle, Pete Townshend. Production: The Who.
The players: Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett, Leslie Ash, Philip Davis, Garry Cooper.