In anticipation of the upcoming DVD release of The Who’s QUADROPHENIA, Rhino Home Video is touring a re-mastered and re-mixed print of the movie in theaters across the country. Set in 1965, QUADROPHENIA is about the disaffected youth of London who found meaning and belonging through music, fashion and drugs.
“I don’t want to be like anyone else—that’s why I’m a Mod.”
Seventeen-year-old Jimmy Cooper (Daniels) is a “Mod,” a subculture distinguished by their tailored suits and decked-out motor scooters. His uncomprehending (though loving) parents, like those of every generation, cannot understand their son’s need to dress funny and stay out late. He hates his job in the mailroom, but it allows him to dress “flash,” keep his beloved scooter running, and score some “blues” from Ferdy (Laird) the local dealer.
As the movie opens, Jimmy is riding his scooter when he has a brief run-in with some “Rockers,” the leather-clad, motorcycle-riding rivals of the Mods. This is just a hint of things to come. At the club, we meet his best friends Dave (Wingett) and Chalky (Davis), as well as Steph (Ash) the unattainable “bird” of his desires.
The next day, Jimmy bumps into old friend Kevin (Winstone), just returned from the army, only to find out he is a Rocker. Though Kevin turns out to be a decent guy who doesn’t agree with the whole Mod/Rocker rivalry, Jimmy ditches him to avoid being seen with a Rocker.
That night, Jimmy goes to another party where he spots Steph slow-dancing with her current beau Pete (Cooper). Although Monkey (Willcox) is more than willing to be Jimmy’s bird, he only wants Steph. Frustrated, he puts The Who’s “My Generation” on the turntable and gets the place rocking, only to watch Steph and Pete leave the party. Later, while everyone is busy shagging in every nook and cranny of the party house, a lonely Jimmy mows down all the flowers in the garden and rides off.
The next morning finds Jimmy puking in the office bathroom while co-workers try not to notice. We get to observe the mundaneness of his job and the obvious gulf between him and everyone else in the other, ordinary world.
Later, when his friend Spider (Shail) is beaten up by a group of Rockers, Jimmy and his mates go out looking for revenge, and set upon two innocent Rockers. One of them turns out to be Kevin, who begs Jimmy to help, but Jimmy, unable to do anything, runs away. At home, his father berates him for coming home at midnight and dressing funny, little knowing what difficult issues his son is coping with on his own.
The next night, when a drug buy goes wrong, Jimmy and his friends robs a chemist’s to obtain drugs for the annual youth pilgrimage to the beach town of Brighton. When they get there the next day, the mood is jubilant as the Mods revel in seeing so many others like themselves, and feeling the power of their numbers. We are introduced to Ace (Sting), the Mod-est of the Mods with the shiniest suit and sweetest scooter, whom Jimmy greatly admires. That night, Jimmy manages to get kicked out of the club after a stunt to draw Steph’s attention away from Ace. While everyone else continues to party, Jimmy finds himself alone and on the outside again, and spends a contemplative night on the beach.
The next morning, flush from their first night of carousing, the Mods march through the quiet streets yelling “We are the Mods.” When they spot some Rockers in a café, the mob descends upon them, and rioting ensues. As the fighting continues and the police enter the fray, Jimmy manages to pull Steph aside to a secluded alley, where he gets to fulfill his ultimate desire while the riots continue in the background. Later when Jimmy is arrested, his dismay quickly disappears when he finds Ace also occupying the police van, with whom he happily shares a smoke. From the look on his face, we may surmise that is probably the greatest day in Jimmy’s life.
Unfortunately, things go downhill from here after Jimmy gets out of jail. He is kicked out of the house by his mother after she finds his drug stash. He quits his job after being reprimanded by his boss. He attacks Dave and thereby alienates himself from all his friends. Later when he tries explain to Steph how life made sense for him in Brighton, she informs him that Brighton was just a “giggle” for her, effectively stomping on the significance of both their liaison and the events at Brighton. And then in the final blow, his scooter is run over by a postal truck. With nothing left for him in London, Jimmy decides to go back to the place where he experienced the most happiness.
Once in Brighton, he spots the unmistakable scooter belonging to Ace outside a hotel. Eager to find the one last person in the world who would surely understand, Jimmy looks for Ace only to discover he is the bellboy there. As he watches his idol in his uniform, complete with gold buttons and pill-box hat, bowing and subservient, something breaks inside of him. He steals Ace’s scooter and rides to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Having been rejected by his parents, his friends, his pseudo-girlfriend and now his idol, he realizes that there is no longer any comfort, any answers in being Mod, and flings the scooter over the cliff in the ultimate rejection of that façade.
Although I had never seen the movie before, I was already a fan of the music used in the movie, especially that of The Who. However, I felt that the movie did not capture the intensity of emotion that is evoked when you hear the stuttering lines of “P-people t-try to p-p-p-put us dow-own/ Talking ’bout my generation” or the howling of “Love, Reign o’er me”. Still, the setting, the music and the fashion make QUADROPHENIA an interesting take on the age-old tale of teenage angst.