As The Jam once sang:
'Life is a drink, and you get drunk when you're young.'
This exhilarating tour-de-force is set in London in 1964: a booming era
where wage-earning teenagers are eager for fashion, socializing, recreational
drugs and music. Above all, it focuses on the emergence of the 'Modernist'
or Mod youth movement; and their tribal war with their 50's throwback
enemies, the grubby, Gene Vincent-adoring Rockers.
The attention to detail is so vivid that while you are aware of the
often pointless superficiality of the Mod scene, you are at once drawn
into its pulsating heart.
Director Franc Roddam employs a young and virtually unknown cast, and
this gives the acting a natural rawness which brings the action alive.
Gate-crashing parties, breaking into chemists, scooter rallies, trips
to Brighton, and Monday comedowns is the world where Jimmy (Phil Daniels)
exists. We may recognize aspects of it; we all empathise when events career
out of control.
Roddam refuses to patronise or condemn the anti-social behaviour of these
teenagers. Ultimately, the core issue of Quadrophenia is one young man's
Paul Daniels gives a career-best performance as Jimmy, a cocky hedonist with
an insecure streak. He puts his whole life into being a Mod, but always
lays himself open to disappointment. The girl of his dreams (Leslie Ash)
is only leading him along; a hated Rocker (Ray Winstone) turns out to be
a childhood mate; the 'Ace Face' of Brighton (Sting) is a hotel lackey;
all his mates are merely weekend Mods to be part of a gang.
Every one of the boisterous cast plays their part in this definitive
recreation of the Mod era.
From its opening scenes, where a multi-mirrored scooter driver patrols
London, keeping one eye out for girls, the other for Rockers, we are
plunged into Jimmy's teenage world of highs and lows. With the progressing
storyline we encounter the amphetamine-fuelled escapades of his gang,
as they meet in milk bars and plan their Bank Holiday excursion. None of
them are looking for anything more in life; Jimmy alone feels that something
is missing, although he has no idea what this could possibly be.
Quadrophenia is a raw and flawless depiction of a post-war London on the
cusp of the Swinging 60's, and the youth cults enacting their alternative
lifestyles at that time. Particularly vivid are the gangs converging on
Brighton, and the riots that instigated tabloid fury.
There are many tremendous scenes. When a hungover Jimmy throws up in his
office toilets, two of his bosses pretend he isn't there. After encountering
an old mate at the local baths, Jimmy freezes when he sees the guy wearing
Rocker clothes. He is trapped in a tribal mindset.
Because the story is well and truly 'of the instant', the narrative merely
grinds to a halt after the anti-climax of Brighton weekend. We never really
know where Jimmy is going next.
A brilliant depiction of life in a youth cult. Quadrophenia is loud,
brash, gritty and quintessentially British. A celebration of what they
called 'My Generation' over quarter of a century ago.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming