Ban The Bomb And Do The Fuck All For A Living: Quadrophenia (1979)

The musical this month has proven to be rather traditional, even when considering the various post-genre films I tackled, the music component was set aside and separated as part of the narrative.  Indeed, the only other examples where defining the work as a musical might have proven to be a bit of a stretch would be Saturday Night Fever, but since it is so integral to the space of the film the labeling of it as such is necessary.  In contrast, but no less pertinent to the inclusion this month is the The Who inspired, mod-fashion donning Quadrophenia which is about as cool a youth in revolt film as a person could ever hope to encounter.   I decided to include it this month on the marathon of musicals primarily, because I wanted to find and excuse to finally view the film, but also because I wanted to look at work whose musical component played equal parts to the narrative, wherein each choice musically is an extension of the ideas and emotions of the characters on screen.  While this is not a common occurrence in cinema--excluding melodramatic elements--it has happened before, most notably with the films The Harder They Come and Amadeus.  I will say though, in the previously mentioned works, the music is clearly distinguished from the narrative, even in the sense that it is integral to its working, nothing exists quite like Quadrophenia, wherein the music is as much the heartbeat and thriving of the film, as are the wide-eyed but decidedly world weary faces of the characters in the film.  If the punk movement was already meeting its demise in Britain at the time and the working class came to grips with a lost socialist utopian ideal, Quadrophenia might well be the single most evocative and focused work on the various aftermath of such social decay.  Nobody in the film appears to have any sense of direction or guidance, wandering aimlessly through the film as the wailing of Roger Daltrey attempts to bring guidance like a prophet who is simply too ahead of his time.  To any other film, music would be a component that helps make the film work or fail, however, in Quadrophenia it is the film.

Quadrophenia focuses on the trials and tribulations of Jimmy (Phil Daniels) a young mod rocker, whose attachment to his working class identity, is in contrast with his hope to make it as a big name in the magazine industry, although he currently fails to rise above the role of mail clerk, instead seeking his escape through the use of pills, notably blues, which he attains from other members of his motorcycle riding crew.  Hoping to make some sense of his life, Jimmy navigates the world of London in a pill-induced fever dream, attempting to make passes at the girls he sees in clubs, while continually passing along his drugs to those around him, each escaping from their own communities, whether it be the drug dealing Jamaican immigrant Spider (Gary Shail) or the equally disillusioned love interest to Jimmy, Steph (Phil Daniels).  The constant late night boozing and partying on the part of Jimmy leads to constant condemnation by his suspicious parents, only finding minimal solace when he and his Father (Michael Elphick) share a joking--albeit telling--conversation about the nature of his musical tastes and particular adoration for the work of The Who.  When, Jimmy and his bike gang come to odds with the members of another rival group, led by the popular and notably attractive Ace Face (Sting) a heavy amount of rioting breaks out that involves destructing some of downtown London and leads to Jimmy becoming a troublesome figure to the police, which is only exacerbated by his recent breaking into a pharmacy to attain money and a large amount of pills, which he uses like candy.  When Jimmy eventually loses his job, he too loses any sense of his identity and when he can no longer keep the affections of Steph, who has now begun a relationship with another of Jimmy's friends, the lone young man takes to his motorbike and traverses the white cliffs of dover, yelling and screaming in frustration as he constantly looks over the cliff.  In the closing moments of the film, Jimmy careens his bike towards the cliff, in apparent suicide, however the last shot is solely of a destroyed bike and nothing more, the whereabouts of Jimmy remaining unknown.

I mentioned the way in which music works within this film, while it almost entirely exists within a space of the non-diegetic, there is one instance where Jimmy and a rival youth are enjoying a bath at a local bathhouse.  The two in separate rooms begin singing respective rock ballads of the time, constantly raising their voice and rhthym to overpower the other, despite the contestation of the other persons at the establishment.  While the singing starts off as a childish game of singing, it eventually takes on a violent degree as the two climb over the dividers and begin a fist fight.  It is the confrontational element that speaks to what is occurring within Quadrophenia and its use of music.  Either by juxtaposition or pure adrenaline, the music in the film serves as a means to extend the idea of youth as frustrated and confused, manifested most evidently by The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" which is used in three sections of the film, all with different outcomes contingent on the point in Jimmy's evolution of the character.  In the first shots of the film, a line of it is used in a sort of medley with the other songs of the film, establishing the figure in relation to the youth.  The second sequence the song is used in a more ironic context, as Jimmy and his pals are cruising about London, attaching a sort of unknowing quest for the homosocial bond, while also accepting that such pursuing of desire meets with violent results in this young culture bent on revolt and some bizarre form of conformist anarchy.  Finally, when Jimmy has all but lost his entire social status and by extension his self-identity, the song plays a far more evocative and decidedly synchronous relation to the film, while images of Jimmy staring through a glass window with a reflection of a pier occur with the swelling of the intro music to the film, his driving on the cliffs juxtapose the ultimate lines of love and desire refreshment and healing through the cool rain.  Here the music is almost a requirement and demands that the viewer understand youth culture in a layered and intersecting dialogue at once part of many things, but always personal to the individual in the moment.

Key Scene: We are. We are. We are the mods.

The Criterion bluray for the film is crisp and vibrant and the audio of The Who songs makes it all the more wonderful.

No comments:

Post a Comment