Quadrophenia (1979)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Quadrophenia</strong> (1979)

(On DVD, December 2009) Five minutes after this film started, I really wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the picture: mid-sixties Britain may have given us The Beatles, but in many ways it felt like a terrible place to live, and the prospect of spending even 90 more minutes there alongside a rebellious teenager really wasn’t appealing.  But through its protagonist, Quadrophenia ends up testifying about a way of living: There are echoes of A Clockwork Orange in there, but also an entire era in which Britain redefined itself.  By the time the film sets up its conflict between mods and rockers, the hook is in: While the self-destructive protagonist isn’t much more sympathetic, there’s a real drive to find out what will happen to him next.  But the film’s greatest moment is easily its lengthy sequence detailing an urban riot between mods and rockers set in Brighton.  The antagonism between the two groups may feel silly, but as a depiction of urban unrest in a densely-packed setting, it has few equals: Loosely based on real events that I ended up researching with wide-eyed amazement (read up on “Mods and Rockers” on Wikipedia and keep following the links), Quadrophenia ends up providing a window into an era that is still, in some ways, embedded in the modern teenage experience.  For a few moments, the film brings together a lot of threads about moral panics about teenage experimentation, the origins of a pop-cultural movements and the place of music in that matrix.  But don’t be frightened off by social analysis: Quadrophenia is perfectly enjoyable as a teenage drama, a musical opera (the soundtrack is amazing), a fount of obscure trivia (including a small but striking role for Sting) and a generally well-made film: The direction still holds up well even today.  For a film I wasn’t sure to keep watching five minutes in, it ends up being a minor classic of its era.

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