Tuesday, January 12, 2010




This post is triggered off by listening to a Radio 4 documentary on the history of Mods, narrated by Phil Daniels - on the BBC I-player for a few more days.

This was, I believe, the first published story on the film, which appeared in the NME under my pseudonym Dick Tracy on May 12th 1979, some four months before the film was released. The interview with Phil Daniels was held back until the film's release in September.

I managed somehow to get this exclusive by gaining access to the screening for the cast and crew. I don't think any other journalists were present. That, of course, is the name of the game. Such a thing is less likely to happen these days when such matters are much more tightly controlled.

The piece begins with a stand-first, explaining the basic storyline. Piece is illustrated with a set of original film stills from The Generalist Archive.


THE ACTION OF Quadrophenia covers a period of ten days in the life of Jimmy (Phil Daniels) before, during, and after the Battle of Brighton, highspot of the Mod's year. Jimmy has a hard time at home and a boring job in the postroom of a smart advertising agency. What he really lives for is the Mods — his scooter, his suits, his pills and his mates, Chalkie, Pete, Dave and Ferdy.

There are two big problems in his life: trying to make Steph (Leslie Ash) who doesn't want to know, and getting enough pills for the Brighton trip. He eventually scores some pills from local hoods but they're duff and he ends up breaking into a chemist's shop. After a few nights of Mod action — gatecrashing straight parties, beating up rockers — the gang head for Brighton and the real fun begins.

Led by Ace (Sting from The Police), the M waste an entire cafe of rockers before settii the police. Jimmy finally gets to make Step a back alley during the middle of the battle, shortly after gets arrested and, along with, receives a heavy fine next morning at the magistrates court.

Life holds little meaning for Jimmy after the Mods' finest hour. Steph has gone off with his best mate, his family throws him out, he chucks his job and finally, his scooter gets trashed.

Disillusioned, Jimmy blows all his money on pills and heads back to Brighton in search of his dreams. But there his final hopes are wrecked when he sees Ace as he really is.

With no one left to turn to, Jimmy nicks a scooter and heads out for the cliffs.


Can you see the real me?"screams Roger Daltrey as the curtains pull back and the screen fills with a cliff-top view of the sun setting over the sea. The lone Mod gazes into the distance, then turns and walks back towards the camera until his face fills the frame. The music kicks into high gear, the legend WHO FILMS appears and Jimmy rides out, blocked and happy, on his multi-mirrored scooter. Quadrophenia, that unusual state of mind, is now a movie.

The story of ten days in Jimmy's life will be instantly recognisable to the album owners and, like the vinyl version, the film is rough and energetic, realistic and accessible. It's also a lot of fun, and should produce widespread seat-damaging outbreaks when it reaches British screens next September.

You soon lose count of the number of pills swallowed during the proceedings and it's rare indeed to see kids beating the dust off policemen with so much abandon. Combine that with the male full-frontals and you've got the kind of picture that the True Blues love to hate.

The audience on the night I saw Quadrophenia previewed was limited mainly to the cast and crew of the picture, which proved a trifle disorientating for this writer. Looking around the obligatory post-screening drink session, these larger-than-life figures were all there in the foyer — but in different costumes. Two of the main Mods, for instance, turned up dressed in black bondage jumpsuits, gleaming with a million zips. The chief rocker had a new hairstyle and was outfitted like a member of Racey.

That aside, the main order of the day was to make contact with director Franc Roddam who, it turned out, was keen to meet before shooting off for the official premiere of the movie at the Cannes Film Festival this week. We synchronised engagement calendars and I headed off to do some homework.

WE MEET UP a week or so after the preview screening at a tastefully decorated converted warehouse situated in a back-street Soho mews. He's an approachable, fast-talking guy, obviously very ambitious and purposeful, who seems largely unaffected by his current success.

Roddam's name may be unfamiliar, as Quadrophenia is his first cinematic feature, but you've probably seen his work on TV. Having graduated from the London Film School followed by stint in advertising, the young Roddam moved to the BBC where he made the controversial All In The Family series and the startling Dummy, the story of a deaf and dumb prostitute which — rare for a TV play — scored highly in the ratings, pulling in an audience of 14 million.

He's recently come back from Hollywood where he was offered some half a dozen movie projects in two weeks. Pipe dreams have become reality for him and he can now afford to turn them down. Currently he's negotiating a three-picture contract with 20th Century Fox and has two ideas in development: one a story of immigrant Mexican workers to be filmed on location in California, the other a hush-hush environmental picture about resources.

Roddam almost didn't direct Quadrophenia at all. He was all set to make a TV film on IOS chief Bernie Cornfeld, the renegade financier. Roddam chuckles as he recalls his visit to Cornfeld's giant Los Angeles mansion, with its two hostesses in hot pants and the 15 limousines in the drive, all with flat tyres. The project fell through however when the powers that be put their money into another project, the recently screened Dirty Money—the saga of a daring French bank raid — so Roddam found himself with spare time. He explains how Quadrophenia came up.

"I went through a sort of audition period. Quite interesting. I was approached by producers Roy Baird and Bill Curbishley (also The Who's manager), then I finally met Townshend.

"Townshend had seen Dummy and liked it a lot. We found we were talking about the same sort of things, we had a similar attitude towards society and, strangely enough, a lot of our conversation centred on our attitudes towards punk.

"There had been an article in The Times about commodities and materials in response to a very outrageous 'These people ought to be shot' sort of letter — about the punks liking rubber and plastic and wearing swastikas. The reply had been written by a punk girl saying she felt sorry for this guy because what he didn't realise was that society has to keep re-examining itself, not only on an ethical level but also on a what-is-available level. There isn't enough stripped pine and cosy country houses to go round, and new generations are going to have to associate themselves with plastic and polystyrene and polyester.

"So punk isn't only a musical movement, it's also going to influence architecture, design, all sorts of things. Townshend and I came together on that. He's extremely bright, aware and well-informed ... a very rich man but still in touch. From that level we could then start talking about Quadrophenia."

So did you sit down with the album and work from there?

"Yes. The album works very well as an album but it doesn't work as a film. So I then had to take things away and add things to it, and certain basic principles had to be set out.

"I didn't want to make a rock opera for several reasons: I didn't think the subject was a rock opera type and I'm not that kind of director anyway. I've been brought up in the school of realism, so therefore I couldn't be a Ken Russell.

"Then there was a practical reason. I didn't just want to make a pale copy of Tommy, I wanted to move in a completely different direction — and that meant having a completely different approach to the music.

"In Tommy the music dominates the film and is the central driving force behind it, it controls the narrative. In Quadrophenia, the music contributes to the narrative and supports it but very rarely takes over from it. That's quite a difficult decision because it's putting the music in second place, so it's a very different kind of film.

"What I've done with Quadrophenia is.take the essence of the idea, the guts and power of the music and turn that into celluloid."


Great pic. (l to r): John Entwhistle, Roger Daltrey, Phil Daniels, Franc Roddam

Did the Who have much of a say during the course of filming?

"They just kept a discreet distance. I was really impressed by them because they were supportive and never destructive. Entwistle came every day for the whole three-week dub. He worked as musical director and got all the music ready.

"Daltrey was interesting because he was like a conscience. He had a sort of Mod idea. If he ever came through it was that he didn't want to let the Mod thing down.

"Townshend, of course, was like a sort of guiding light. He was very gracious — gracious enough to say, 'I made the album, the film is yours. I trust you to go away and make it.'

"I was sad about Keith Moon because I was just getting to know him. When I first met him, he came in in jodhpurs, a monocle and with his big bodyguard. He terrified me in a way — and I've been around — but he had a tremendous talent for disorientating people.

"They said, This is Frank, he's going to direct the film', and Moon said: 'I've got a great idea — why don't we direct it together?'

"I said, 'Okay, if you let me play drums on your next album.' So we were alright after that."

Only four days out of the 57-day shooting period on Quadrophenia were devoted to studio work. The rest was all location, ranging from the backroads of Shepherd's Bush to Lewes Magistrates Court, from a barber's in Islington to the Basement Club in Covent Garden. And of course Brighton, where the climactic battles between mohair and leather take place and give a whole new meaning to the term "beach movie".

Roddam clearly enjoyed that experience.

"If the film takes on epic proportions at any place, it is during the Brighton scenes where we have 2,000 Mods and Rockers fighting. That's when it be comes a grander film.

"As a director I always thought you had to go as near to destruction as possible without hurting anybody or hurting the film." Judging by the footage, Roddam took it fairly close to the edge.


Franc Roddam (right) filming on the beach near Brighton Pier.

Not surprisingly, Brighton Council wasn't too happy about the idea of the location shoot,but the police were only too ready to cooperate, probably looking on the opportunity as good training. In the face of the Council's attitude, Roddam just arrived, risking it.

His mass of real Mods and Rockers from all over the country, supplemented by a crew of extras drawn from the lines of the local employment exchange, simply took over the town. At one point they completely blocked the rush-hour traffic and caused a three-mile long tailback.

But ironically, one of the few casualties of the whole battle sequence was Roddam himself. While filming in the narrow alleyways of the Brighton Lanes, a supposedly docile police dog went for one of the cameramen, who whipped his camera round and caught Roddam in the head. Do they call that suffering for your art?

I  wondered how much the movie was a question of research, and how much was drawn from Roddam's personal experience?

"I was 18 in 1964 so therefore I grew up with the Mod movement even though I wasn't a Mod. So I wasn't a 45-year-old director saying, what did happen, how did they behave? I did go to parties like that.

"I come from a violent town, Cleveland on Teesside, so I did get involved in a lot of street fights. I also think I know the ambitions of that group of people. I know the economic problems. So I didn't have to do much research except to remind myself, to make sure my memory wasn't being distorted by affection or disaffection.

"People have very affectionate memories. They said the kids in my film are not stylish enough, but what they're remembering is the one Supermod. When they see the girls, they're remembering Cathy McGowan or Mary Quant.

"I used newspaper cuttings and photographs and music to get it accurate, but I still get challenged by a lot of people."


The young Ray Winstone. Both he and Phil Daniels went straight from the set of Quadrophenia to appear in Scum.

Roddam considers himself a political filmmaker in the non-party sense, and feels that the film has something to say on that level. As he puts it: "If people go along with the crowd they often make decisions which I think are detrimental to society and humanity, so I would like to try and influence them. What I'm trying to do in Quadrophenia is to say, here's a guy who joins a group, gets carried along by the group ethic — which is not necessarily good. He must separate himself from that, try to be himself, look at things as an individual and decide for himself."

An understandable personal philosophy from a rnan who used to be a shipyard worker and is now a hot director. His attitude is clear, and he's not shy of expressing it.

"It's my job, I think, to manipulate an audience, to make them conscious of certain things I'm anxious about, to shed light on common experience.

"When I left film school I had the opportunity to make arty films for minority audiences or to try and make films that would reach mass audiences. I believe you can make an artistic film, a socially aware film, an important film, and still make it commercial. That's my big ambition."

A scooter crashes on the rocks and smashes to bits. The curtain closes.

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