MOD LIFE IS RUBBISH
Saturday 01 February 1997
After the overblown rock folly that was Tommy (released four years before), The Who wisely decided to steer clear of Ken Russell in their next film venture, and eschewed all attempts to sell British youth culture across the Atlantic. Members of the band were replaced by nobodies such as Toyah Wilcox and Lesley Ash, Londoners who could deliver a convincing Cockney lingo. Where Tommy had toothsome curly-top Roger Daltry, Quadrophenia had skinny, saturnine Phil Daniels. Where the first film had Jack Nicholson, the second had Sting.
And, most importantly of all, in place of Russell's bombast there was first-time director, Franc Roddam. A graduate from television's nascent docu-drama school, Roddam had been working alongside fellow small-screen film-makers such as Ken Loach when he was given the go ahead to make a film about Mods and Rockers, and the rest is history.
Roddam has said that he was "more interested in Truffaut's 400 Blows and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning than rock'n'roll musicals" and this kitchen-sink aesthetic brought a street naturalism to the melodrama of Quadrophenia's internecine style wars. In retrospect, the film has been dubbed Rebel Without a Cause in parkas, but it's not just the dapper outfits of Ace Face and the rest that make Roddam's film reek of authenticity.
Location shooting captured the grim landscape of 1964 youth: the council housing, the dingy clubs. The back street alleys where be-parka'd Mods and leather Rockers fought for supremacy, and where Mods like Daniels's Jimmy would snatch a quickie with girls like Steph in the flush of victory after facing down the law. Rumbles were shot with an almost documentary energy on the streets of Brighton, with hundreds of extras, and some casualties.
The result is a manic movie with all the restless energy of its pill- popping protagonists. It captures the essence of teenage life in one big amphetamine rush before driving its confused hero to the edge of a cliff (on a scooter, natch) and straight into youth culture.
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