A houseful of English teen-agers are slow dancing to the Cascades' romantic but sappy "Rhythm of the Rain." Suddenly, a disaffected young man named Jimmy throws the Who's galvanic "My Generation" onto the turntable. The party explodes into a sea of motion as kids move uninhibitedly to the combustive rhythm of the teen-age rock anthem.
This is one of many exhilarating scenes in Franc Roddam's "Quadrophenia," an unflinchingly real film about British youth culture in the mid-1960s. The 1979 drama captures much of the energy and passion at the heart of a social movement split between two rival gangs called mods and rockers.
Mods were dandies who favored smart suits and elaborately decorated scooters. Rockers were leather-jacketed rebels who rode motorcycles. Throughout "Quadrophenia," mods and rockers curse each other and occasionally rumble. But the film's objective isn't to point out the animosity between the two groups. Instead it explores the need these working-class youths have for a sense of identity and purpose.
For Jimmy--the central figure in "Quadrophenia"--being a mod is everything. During the day he works as a messenger in an advertising agency. When his superiors chastise him for his sloppy work habits, you can feel his anger welling up. At home his parents are even more critical. Everything from the photos of nude women adorning his bedroom walls to the late hours he spends with his friends are matters of dispute.
Away from work and family, though, Jimmy is somebody . His confidence and spirit soar when he and his mod compatriots pop pills or cruise London in their scooters.
However, youth movements are fleeting and often shallow. Roddam deftly explores the superficial nature of relationships based on appearance and style. Ultimately, the film says, everyone must confront their own sense of self-worth.
"Quadrophenia" is based on the 1973 Who album of the same name. The double LP, though musically strong, is conceptually weak. So Roddam and screenwriter Dave Humphries earn credit for fleshing out the story and characters.
"Quadrophenia" (1979), directed by Franc Roddam. 115 minutes. Rated R.