Quadrophenia

The Who's second most famous rock opera doesn't have anything approaching "Pinball Wizard" on its soundtrack, but that didn't stop Quadrophenia from drawing cultish adoration in 1979. Only sporadically available on video in America until this nicely restored, extras-packed DVD version, the film resembles a speed-stoked, grittier American Graffiti for the other side of the ocean. Like its 1973 source album, Quadrophenia recreates a stretch of the '60s when nattily dressed Mods championed English bands (particularly The Who), trolled London streets on Vespa scooters, and contended with their leather-sporting, Yankophilic rivals, the Rockers. Phil Daniels plays the quintessential Mod, an aimless, working-class office lackey who lives for the evenings and weekends that allow him time with his likeminded friends. As a sociological piece, the Franc Roddam-directed film would be valuable enough. Following Daniels' rounds from clubs to parties to record shops, and back to his memento-adorned room, Quadrophenia acts as a time machine, providing virtual access to the youth movements of the newly mobile British working class. (Filled out by a Roddam commentary, a running subtitle track of trivia, Mod facts, a Vespa documentary, and other extras, the DVD offers a nice extension of the experience.) Heavily improvised, both in the acting and in the filming, Roddam's film immerses viewers in the action, relegating The Who's music largely to the background and achieving an almost vérité feel. Apart from its authenticity, its greatest strength comes from its near-definitive portrayal of teen angst. Daniels' character consists of equal parts self-regard and self-doubt, with a tremendous need for release and few outlets for it. Sex, drugs, and violence all float into his life, but they never quite seem to work. He takes some comfort from being part of a pack, and the joys and limitations of the experience form the boundaries of the film, a time capsule that should never lose its relevance, so long as there are teenagers.

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