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"Inside, outside, where have I been? / Out of my brain on the 5:15...."
Criterion / 117 Minutes / 1979/ Rated R / Street Date: August 28, 2012
For this rock and roll dude, there continues to be something particularly un-rock-and-roll about the 'rock opera'. I understand that Tommy was a monster smash, and I spent more than a few summer evenings with Neil Young and Crazy Horse when they were spinning Greendale, but the whole concept of rockin' dudes and dudettes breaking into song anywhere but the music stage errs way too liberally into the realm of musical theater for this guy.
But what Quadrophenia does to counter that is drop a British fog of out-and-out weirdness on its viewers to splinter any direct unease with its musical rhetoric. We definitely get thick reams of excellent and rocking numbers from The Who in this weird little nugget of a movie, but what sets Quadrophenia apart from the pack isn't as much its achievement as a 'rock opera' but its willingness to play among the fringes of the sub-genre.
There are gang rivalries and young loves, a super-young Sting who pops in as a leather-clad meanie, a killer reminder of just how great a song "Love Reign O'er Me" is, and even a super-strange-o extensive bathing sequence in which future Indiana Jones pal Ray Winstone offers up an awkwardly frank full-wiener nude scene - in short, Quadrophenia as a note-for-note film is all over the place.
And this oddity does nothing but crystallize its effect as a cult curio. Quadrophenia is hard to cleanly categorize, but that's what makes it such a bizarre cult-adored one-off. It's not for all Who fans, and even for members of the audience with Townsend tattoos, it may not be the kind of flick you watch more than once or twice in your viewing life, but Criterion has dusted off the 'rock opera' with marvelous acuity and attention to detail in such a fashion that Quadrophenia has become cinematically irresistible. Don't bother trying to wrap your brain around it: just jump in.