Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Kids Are Alright (1979) * * ¾

This musical documentary literally begins with a bang at The Who's only US variety show appearance. On September 15, 1967 the band appeared on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR on CBS in LA following the end of their first US tour. They lip-synched the songs "I Can See For Miles" and "My Generation" and flustered host Tommy Smothers by refusing to follow the script as he tried to converse with them. Moon made the biggest impact when the destructive nature of his on-stage persona reached its highest level. After The Who's performance of "My Generation", they began smashing their instruments. Moon packed an explosive charge in his bass drum which set Townshend's hair on fire and made him temporarily deaf for 20 minutes, while cymbal shrapnel left a gash in Moon's arm. Townshend then took the acoustic guitar Smothers was holding and smashed it to bits on the ground. Smothers was completely frustrated, but the audience thought the whole performance was staged. Clips of a 1973 interview from London Weekend Television's RUSSEL HARTY PLUS appear six times throughout the film. While Harty delves into the background of the members' lives, Moon again steals the show as he rips off Townshend's shirt sleeve and then strips down to his underwear.

Tom Smothers: And you must be Roger.
Roger Daltrey: Well I must be.
Tom Smothers: Are you?
Roger Daltrey: Yes.
Tom Smothers: And where are you from?
Roger Daltrey: Oz.
Tom Smothers: Roger from Oz?
Roger Daltrey: Yes!

One of the TV interviews included in the film features Ken Russell, the director of the film TOMMY (1975), who makes his mark with his exaggeratedly passionate plea: "I think that Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its decadent ambient state better than Wilson or all of those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!"

An early performance from ABC television's SHINDIG! and one of only two surviving tapes from the group's many appearances on the British program READY STEADY GO!, both recorded in 1965, are included along with numerous interview clips from BBC Radio and Radio Bremen of Hamburg. Segments filmed in each of the band member's homes include several conversations between Moon and fellow drummer Ringo Starr.

Ringo Starr: (regarding Keith Moon) Well, I'm sure most of his friends have been on here, cos I'm only one of several, and they've told you about all the mad things he's done in life. Such as, breaking up rooms... driving his car into swimming pools... and driving his car into foyers. Well, I'm not gonna tell you about any of that. I'm just here to tell you about the Keith I know and love.

Keith Moon: (asked about previous jobs) I was a rust repairer. I was a rust repairer and full-time survivor. I survived all the major earthquakes, and the Titanic, and several air crashes. My friends call me Keith, but you can call me John.

Performances from three of the band's largest concert appearances bear witness to the band's progression from the British mod scene to global superstardom. They reluctantly performed at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on 17 August 1969. It was not an artistic success in the eyes of the band, but it helped "Tommy" become a critical and financial success. The four clips that appear in the film, besides being a completely new cut of the Woodstock performance, without the "split-screen", include three tracks from "Tommy" and "My Generation", topped off by Townshend throwing his guitar into the crowd.

Pete Townshend: When I'm on the stage--let me try to explain--when I'm on the stage, I'm not in control of myself at all. I even don't know who I am. I'm not this rational person that can sit here and talk to you. If you walked on the stage in the middle of a concert for an interview, I'd probably come close to killing you--I have come close to killing people that walked on the stage. Abbie Hofmann walked on the stage at Woodstock and I nearly killed him with me guitar. A cameraman walked... a, a, a policeman came on when the bloody building of the Fillmore in New York was burning down--and I kicked him in the balls and sent him off. It's not like being possessed, you know, it's just--I do my job, and I know that I have to get into a certain state of mind to do it. What first made us want to go to America and..."conquer" it, was being English! It wasn't that we cared a monkey's about the American Dream, or the American drug situation, or the dollars or any of that. It's because we were English kids! And we wanted to go to America and be English!

John Entwistle: We became rich later than I expected. Now I'm too old to enjoy my money.

The Who's 1975 US tour reached its peak before a crowd of 75,962 at the Pontiac Silverdome on 6 December 6, 1975. The images in the film were broadcast to large screens in the stadium so those in the far reaches could actually see the band members on stage.

Pete Townshend: If you steer clear of quality, you're alright.
Interviewer: But wouldn't you say a group like The Beatles have a certain musical quality?
Pete Townshend: Oooh, that's a tough question. Alright, actually, this afternoon, John and I were listening to a stereo LP of The Beatles, in which the voices come out of the one side and the backing track came out of the other. And when you actually hear the backing tracks of The Beatles without their voices, they're flippin' lousy.

Near the end of the film, the band's appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 18, 1967 brought about their first big media exposure in the United States. In the film, The Who's Monterey Pop appearance cuts away to footage from past concerts depicting the band destroying their equipment before returning to the destructive end of "My Generation".

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT is a documentary film about the English rock band The Who, including live performances, promotional films and interviews from 1964 to 1978. It chronicles the development of the Who from young British mods in their early R & B period to worldwide arena rock icons. The film begins with the band's American TV debut and continues through into the 1970s with QUADROPHENIA. Twenty-two classic Who tunes are featured, including a special version of the title track, "My Generation", "Magic Bus", "Happy Jack", and "Long Live Rock". Director Jeff Stein, who was just 21 at the time, was given unlimited access to archives of the Who, occasionally butting heads with strong-willed guitarist and songwriter Pete Townsend over the direction of the film. Stein had produced a book of photographs from the band's 1970 tour when he was just 17.

In 1975 he approached Pete Townshend and attempted to convince him of his feature length movie idea. Townshend initially rejected the idea, but was persuaded by the group's manager, Bill Curbishley, to give their cooperation. Then Stein showed the band the 17-minute reel of The Who television appearances he had cobbled together. The band laughed hysterically at the footage, and Stein said, "Townshend was on the floor, banging his head. He and Moon were hysterical. Daltrey's wife was laughing so hard she knocked over the coffee table in the screening room. Their reaction was unbelievable. They loved it. That's when they were really convinced that the movie was worth doing."

Pete Towshend: A definitive end? What do you want me to do? Go out there and fall asleep on stage? Maybe I should go out there and die during my last solo? Or maybe I should hit that motherf**ker who's been yelling for "Magic Bus" over the head with me guitar?" (response to Jeff Stein's request for an encore of "Won't Get Fooled Again")
Jeff Stein: Yeah, that'd be fine.

Stein attempted to create not a linear, chronological documentary, but "a celluloid rock 'n' roll revival meeting" and "a hair-raising rollercoaster ride" that was worthy of the band's reputation. The performances which comprise the body of the film are organized around a number of encounters by the band members with various variety and talk show hosts, Pete Townshend's playful relationship with his fans, admirers and critics, and the endless antics of Keith Moon. Manic drummer Moon, who provides numerous laughs in the film, died a year before the film was released. Singer Roger Daltry said, "Most rock films are pretentious. They're made for the sole purpose of making Robert Plant's dick look big. This is totally the opposite. Within the first half hour we're made to look like complete idiots."

The film was released to theaters in October 1979. When the film was originally released on video, two musical segments were cut, paring it down from 106 minutes to 99 minutes. The 2003 video release restores the film. The performances of "Baba O' Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" were Keith Moon's last with the band before his death on September 7, 1978. So the film became a sort of "time capsule" for the band, after Keith Moon died only one week after he'd seen the rough cut of the film with Roger Daltrey. After Moon's death, the rough cut didn't suffer a single change, since neither Jeff Stein nor the rest of the band wanted to turn the movie into an homage to remember Moon's passing, but to celebrate his life and career with The Who. They were determined not to change anything.

Sound editing was supervised by bassist John Entwistle and, with the exception of a 1965 performance of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" where Entwistle had to replace a missing bass track, most of the music is authentic. Entwistle and Townshend overdubed their backing vocals on the Woodstock footage because Entwistle considered the original backup vocals "dire."

The film is raw, edgy and explosive but always professional and focused. It is aggressively loud and consistently unapologetic, and thoroughly committed to its audience, a document of a rock band embracing its successes without ever pandering to its critics or its culture. The film offers no voice-over or neat chronology. And while Pete Townshend is at times visibly tortured by self doubts about the contradictions of pop music, art, money, and authenticity, his band mates were fearless about The Who's mission. Nothing substantial from The Who's career as a live act has been omitted, and even the most obscure performances and most subtle moments contain revelations.

The cast includes: Roger Daltrey (Himself, singer), John Entwistle (Himself, bass), Keith Moon Himself, drummer), Pete Townshend (Himself, guitar and songwriter), Tom Smothers (Himself), Jimmy O'Neill (Himself), Russell Harty (Himself), Melvyn Bragg (Himself), Ringo Starr (Himself), Mary Ann Zabresky (Herself), Michael Leckebusch (Himself), Barry Fantoni (Himself), Jeremy Paxman (Himself), Bob Pridden (Himself), Keith Richards (Himself), Garry McDonald (Norman Gunston), Steve Martin (Himself), Rick Danko (Himself), and Ken Russell (Himself). Incidental music was composed by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Jeff Stein wrote the script and directed.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 13 May 1979. The Who promoted the release of the film with some live performances with their new drummer Kenney Jones. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT premiered in the US on 15 June 1979 in the middle of the disaster film era that featured films like EARTHQUAKE (1974), THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE (1972), and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). In this environment, the original press kit for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT drew on the band's destructive reputation and called it "the world's first rock 'n' roll disaster movie."

Critics generally liked the documentary. Michael Azerrad in Rolling Stone wrote, "Mind-boggling live footage and TV clips offer smashups, trenchant insights and hilarious pratfalls along with some of the most staggeringly powerful rock music you will ever see..." Simo wrote in Variety, "Best by far are the onstage sequences, and the older the footage, the more intriguing..." Mike Clark on USA Today said, "A storehouse of great clips, starting with the rock group's literally explosive performance on The Smothers Brothers Show..." And Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, "Wonderfully obscure and diverse footage of the group..."

An album was released as a soundtrack in June 1979 that included some songs and musical performances from the movie. The album reached # 26 in the UK, and fared better in the US where it peaked at # 8 on the Billboard album charts and went Platinum.

For many years the film was released on VHS in an edited 90-minute form. Several scenes were removed and the audio had several pitch problems and dropouts. In 2003, a DVD edition of the film was released. The strange thing about the DVD presentation is that it comes in two distinct and confusing packages that make you choose between a wealth of bonuses in the "Special Edition" or a standard, straightforward no-frills experience in the "Deluxe Edition". A pristine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer melds many divergent elements (television, video, film, newsreels, and kinescopes) into a panoramic overview of the band's image and history.

The film had been transferred from the restored 35mm interpositive and the audio was extensively restored. In addition to the original film, with English subtitles, on-screen liner notes, commentary with Jeff Stein and DVD producer John Albarian, there is a 27-page booklet. This DVD was released by Pioneer Home Entertainment. Special features are extensive: 100 or so minutes of multiple-angle footage, an insightful interview with Roger Daltrey, a featurette about the film's restoration, and a mesmerizing, isolated John Entwistle audio track. The digitally-restored version of the film was premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2003 with Daltrey, Lewis, Stein and Alberian in attendance. The DVD contains a bonus disc with over three hours of additional materials:

* "See My Way": Q & A with director Jeff Stein
* "Behind Blue Eyes": Q & A with Roger Daltrey
* "Miracle Cure": Documentary on the restoration of THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
* "Getting In Tune": Audio comparison of old vs. new)
* "Trick of the Light": Video comparison of old vs. new
* "The Who's London": A tour of Who locations in London
* "The Ox": Isolated tracks of John Entwistle for "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"
* "Anytime You Want Me": Multi-angle feature for "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"
* "Pure and Easy": Trivia game. The prize: A rare recording of Ringo Starr promoting "The Kids Are Alright"
* "It's Hard": Trivia game. The prize: A slide show to the "Who Are You" 5.1 studio mix

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