Visually stunning and full of fantastic music Tommy brings new meaning to the phrase directorial tour de force. Director Ken Russell was no stranger to musical biographies; Mahler, Elgar and Tchaikovsky had all been given the Russell treatment and anyone familiar with The Devils and the rest of his work knew that Tommy was going to be something special.
Based on the rock opera Tommy by The Who the film stars lead singer Roger Daltrey as the titular Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. The rest of the members of the band make small appearances, but it’s the late great Keith Moon who shines as the sleazy Uncle Ernie. The cast is a who’s who of rock and film legends. Jack Nicholson, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner and Elton John all make memorable appearances although Reeds singing voice does leave a little to be desired at times. Reed was a regular collaborator of Russell’s also starring in Woman in Love, The Devils and The Debussy Film amongst many.
The musical numbers have become iconic to say the least, Elton John’s rendition of Pinball Wizard clad in giant bother boots and glasses and Tina Turner’s Acid Queen are exceptional. The music from the Who’s album has been re-recorded for the film and sounds wonderful in this new restored print. There are some great touches like the toy trumpets during Tommy Can You Hear Me the church of Marilyn Monroe during Eyesight for the Blind and the guitar as Tommy breaks loose during I’m Free. It’s a musical that will draw in even the most cynical of viewer.
The films use of flash frames, animation and strange abstract imagery pre-dates the pop video by years. Russell’s directorial style is perfectly suited to Townsend’s epic muse. The resulting film is a very British affair, Robert Powell, Ann Margaret, Paul Nicholas and Reed all support Daltrey with aplomb. Margaret in particular hurls herself at the role in one classic moment writhing around in gallons of baked beans. Russell and Daltrey worked so well together that the singer was given the lead in Russell’s next film, the much maligned Liztomania.
This reviewer wholeheartedly loved every second of Tommy. As a huge fan of The Who and the work of Ken Russell it’s a marriage made in heaven. Its exuberant style may alienate fans of the gritty scooter filled thrills of Quadrophenia but there is still much acid fueled delirium to be enjoyed.
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