quick jabs of water and light (more on Quadrophenia)

Happy to report that Quadrophenia holds up well upon a second viewing, esp. with director Frank Roddam's lively commentary illuminating almost every scene. It's evident through his commentary how personal his stake was in recreating the era of his youth in both its scope, detail, and most importantly, its turbulence. Noticing that the Quicktime movie clips from the Quadrophenia site were down, I scanned through the film to see if there was an exemplary scene to focus on. There are many memorable scenes, chief among them the entire Brighton riot sequence, Jimmy's zonked out train ride, the ending on the cliffs of Dover, and pretty much anything involving motorbikes. Some of these can be found by searching on YouTube, though I am not pleased enough with the quality of those clips to embed them.

Somehow though, none of them really motivated me to capture them myself and present them here. As memorable as they are, they more or less have a straightforward quality to them. They don't seem to inspire as much indepth analysis as stand-alone sequences, and I'm afraid that any clip viewed in isolation may misrepresent the film as being a tad conventional or simplistic. It's really through the cumulative effect of the story that each little scene, directed with relish within conventional editing and staging techniques, builds to an undeniably powerful effect. Not unlike listening to the Quadrophenia album. I also had a difficult time finding still captures that struck me as outstanding (that the PAL-to-NTSC transfer on the Rhino DVD doesn't hold up to still image scrutiny doesn't help matters). Even the lengthy Brighton riot sequence didn't yield any images other than the iconic (1, 2). The film pretty much works in this vein, offering a series of direct, iconic images and moments in quick succession like quick jabs.

Nonetheless, some motifs emerge, most notably that of water. The film begins and ends with the sea -- an eternal site with multiple meanings: peace, stillness, escape, death.

Mirrors are also an image that recur in the film, repeatedly reflecting Jimmy's self-consciousness - this still being the most striking - love how his comb goes through his hair as she appears, like a Pavlovian reaction:

Regarding technique, the following stills attest to an expert use of lighting to create a consistently electric buzzing mood, especially in the night scenes:

The motorcycle shot above and the group shot below attest to Roddam's tendency to crowd the frame, which he does much of the time. The film is teeming with extras and is almost constantly moving.

Looking at these kids reminds me of some of Roddam's comments about handling these youths and the trouble that they presented him -- some of them were punk rockers from the 70s who had to take on 60s Mod appearances and couldn't bear it for long before getting restless and unruly. One of Roddam's most memorable anecdotes involves luring a derelict young cast member back to the set with an authentic Sex Pistols T-shirt decorated with Sid Vicious' vomit. Stories like that put the fear into me about film directing, and Roddam has many such tales that he rattles off effortlessly 25 years after the fact. I have to wonder what happened following this stunning debut feature, that he became relatively unprolific in film. Hearing him talk about both the technical craft, logistical resourcefulness and the sheer guts to control such an ambitious production was inspiring. To tie all of this up, I will offer one sequence that, going through the film a third time, struck me as outstanding enough to embed here. Like many of the film's other set pieces, it's brilliantly choreographed -- maybe it feels a touch familiar to Scorsese afficionados, but you can't argue with a 2 minute continuous take if it's executed seamlessly. And there is something really authentic about how this scene plays out that the camera fluorishes embellish rather than distract from. It's the conviction to rekindle the energy of this period in history that realizes the movie's best moments and transcends its formal conventions.