No one could ever accuse Pete Townsend of not taking himself seriously enough. It takes a certain kind of hubris and arrogance to take your band from chart friendly rock, to writing more than one rock opera. Even then, I still assumed the movie version of Quadrophenia would be a bit of light fluff. Whether it was (somehow) a direct filmic adaptation of the album, or just inspired by the music, I wasn’t expecting serious social commentary. But I guess that Townsend cockiness is infectious. Because Quadrophenia the movie swings for the fences and attempts real importance.
Phil “Parklife!” Daniels is Jimmy, a disenchanted, young dude with no prospects and no ambition. Because this is England in the 70s, and apparently no one had any prospects or ambition. A self proclaimed Mod, Jimmy gets around town on his tricked out Vespa and listens to the emerging English music scene, filled with bands like The Who (funnily enough) and The Merseybeats.
The arch nemesis of the Mod is the rocker. Decked out in leather, they’re motorbikes monster over the Mod’s scooters, while listening to 50s American rock and roll. The two gangs brawl their way through the movie, while all the while struggling to come to terms with the fact that they’re differences are only superficial. The real enemy of the Mods and the Rockers is the establishment.
I think I was expecting something like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, where the album serves as the soundtrack to the movie and they both tell the same story. But that is most definitely not the case with Quadrophenia. The songs on the album share more of a thematic connection than anything narrative. And very few of them make it into the movie. They’re more about a shared attitude, part of the same sub-culture, than they are a pair, made to work as one connected piece.
Comedy or drama, there’s a feeling of hopelessness common to a lot of English movies and television from the 70s and 80s. It seems like almost everyone was unemployed. Or if they had a job, it was a depressing mine or factory job where they had to wear a layer of soot or one of those ugly, brown, long coats that you only see in English movies and television.
England was in rough shape economically back then, and the stories being told reflected that. Like a lot of them, Quadrophenia uses that depressing backdrop to tell a story about someone bucking the system and rebelling against society to define who they think they are. Also like a lot of those stories, Quadrophenia shows that forcing a persona on yourself is just as bad as having someone else force it on you. It’s all about accepting who you are organically, not trying to manufacture it.