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A Review of the film Quadrophenia

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Against the backdrop of riots in 60s Brighton, Quadrophenia perfectly captures the teenage need to belong, and identify, with your peers. In 1964 London, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) divides his time between hanging out with Mod friends and slaving in the post-room of an advertising firm. He doesn't work because he wants to or through a desire to further a career. No, all Jimmy wants is to have enough cash in his pocket to keep his scooter running and bespoke suits trim, leaving a little for "blues". There's nothing that Jimmy likes more than motoring with his pals Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail). What better way could there be to exasperate his parents (Michael Elphick and Kate Williams) and chat up birds like Steph (Leslie Ash) and Monkey (Toyah Wilcox)?

Come Saturday, Jimmy's down the sauna getting scrubbed-down for a weekend of mayhem. Unfortunately someone in the next cubicle is singing, off-key, the sort of tunes that really bug Jimmy. When he doesn't stop, in fact becoming louder, Jimmy sticks his head over the partition, looking for trouble, only to find Kevin (Ray Winstone), an old school-friend. Warmed with memories of some good times, Jimmy meets Kevin in a nearby cafe (for a sit-down breakfast). Unfortunately it's only then that Jimmy realises that Kevin is a Rocker, the sworn mortal enemies of Mods, forcing him to make an excuse and leave. The episode is soon forgotten though, for Jimmy is looking to have some success with women that evening. He's had his eye on the lithe Steph for a while, even though she's currently hitched up to Pete (Garry Cooper).

So, after procuring a few pills from their supplier Ferdy (Trevor Laird), the gang rolls around looking for a party to gate-crash. Out in the suburbs, the opportunity arises and soon everyone is swaying to the top sounds of the day. The problem for Jimmy is that Steph is all caught up, leaving him to the tender mercies of Monkey. She's a real man-eater, out for a good time, and Jimmy is unwillingly in the firing line. Unsurprisingly it all goes pear-shaped, especially when Jimmy finds that everyone apart from him has found a partner for a bout of sweaty, consensual sex. Luckily, the following weekend is a Bank Holiday and they're all of to Brighton for some fun. However, from the press clippings pinned to Jimmy's bedroom wall, it's clear that he's expecting something a little more exciting.

The central figure of Quadrophenia is Jimmy. Through his eyes we see his uncomprehending (though loving) parents, the London Mod scene and just how far he's prepared to go in the long-standing Mod vs Rocker conflict. To Jimmy, being a Mod is everything; a way of life, a community and a chance to be special (to everyone else it's just something they do at the weekend). As he explains to Kevin, he wants to be different, to stand apart from others. It's kind of ironic then that the way he achieves this is by joining the herd of Parka-wearing, Lambretta-riding Mods. The appeal for someone as vulnerable, impressionable and confused as Jimmy is obvious though, since it's all about getting to grips with life. As such, Quadrophenia lovingly recreates both the period detail and the sense of alienation that many teenagers suffer.

Somewhere around the mid-point of Quadrophenia, the beach-front of Brighton explodes into a pitched-battle between Mods and Rockers. From a small punch-up in a cafe, thousands of excited teenagers looking for an excuse clash in what quickly becomes a riot. However, while the action on the screen has dissolved into chaos, director Franc Roddam keeps a firm hand on the proceedings, orchestrating the violence beautifully. Hence, while the riot is both nasty and quite scary, the film never loses sight of the principal figures (Jimmy and Steph at this point). In tandem with this massed brawl, Roddam is also quite successful at extracting some good performances on an individual level. Daniels is absolutely excellent as a kid chasing dreams in a haze of tiny blue pills, rapidly succumbing to drug-fuelled paranoia. That it's all smoke and mirrors is something that rapidly becomes obvious.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of Quadrophenia is that it captures the zeitgeist perfectly. Everything from the smart uniforms to the way in which the Who-influenced soundtrack complements Jimmy's actions and feelings adds to the authentic feel. The drawbacks of this are that elements such as plot and deep characterisation get lost in the noise, abandoned as unnecessary by a movie which celebrates the vibrancy of youth. However, while this point of view is valid, the lack of background hinders the appreciation of what these teenagers are doing and where they've come from. This problem is high-lighted in the figure of "The Ace Face" (Sting), a sharp-looking fellow who captures Jimmy's imagination and loyalty, only to unwittingly shatter his world. While he works as a symbol, it would be rewarding to just know more about him (especially as he only gets a few, muffled lines). So, although Quadrophenia accurately invokes the Mod movement (and provides some modern-day fun in the picking out of now familiar faces), it fails to tell the whole story.

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