In September 1979, Britain’s youth finally got a screen-full of proper teen angst and rebellion, not as you might expect via Punk, but via a new take on a previous incarnation, the Mods. The Who’s film Quadrophenia starring Phil Daniels, along with punkish upstarts Toyah and a bottle blonde Sting, was the very British antidote to the previous year’s schmaltzy Americana fest “Grease”, and 1977s Saturday Night Fever. Filmed in the UK, the footage itself made a virtue of the dark graininess, that’s inherent in the northern hemisphere, and was a welcome relief to the bright colours and constant smiley sunshine of Hollywood.
We already thought we knew all about Mod culture having seen the Jam wearing their suits and thin ties on Top of The Pops, but nothing had prepared us for the full intensity of the street fighting, house parties, stolen snogs, broken scooters and parental disapproval, that Quadrophenia brought to our formica topped table. We watched it like a documentary, and although it quite clearly portrayed the world according to mod, wasn’t it really just Punk in a Parka?
The mod clothes and the bank holiday battles, were from a different era, but there was an energy about the film that chimed with the mood of the late 1970s. The mods’ emergence 15 years previously, seemed like ancient history, but Quadrophenia portrayed a slice of life that punks and post punks could relate to. The cast weren’t just mod heroes, they could have been punks or a teds or rude boys/girls. What ultimately mattered was their passion for their music and the lifestyle that went with it. Along with their decidedly working class home life, the characters in the film transcended Mod, and became every-teen.
With punk girl Toyah in the cast, maybe the film already had a quiet nod of post-punk approval, but Quadrophenia’s success at the height of post punk cemented a mood of old school rebellion into the collective psyche from there on in. Despite the lack of interesting roles for the girls – Leslie Ash’s Steph was clearly just there for snogging, and Toyah’s Monkey was just sort of there, it still managed to ramp up our excitement.
Everybody’s had their own Quadrophenia moments, from being sandwiched between two old people on a train, to hearing yourself think or say, “and you can stuff your job right up your a*se”!
The film was a journey that was fuelled by the same industrial strength teenage hormones, which we ourselves were still navigating. It seemed like everyone could relate to Jimmy’s journey as he fought both the outside world and his inner turmoil with equal ferocity.
The fiercely energetic soundtrack by the Who, who on certain songs sounded so punk, they might as well have been the Clash. The twin themes of teenage rebellion and teenage angst, were the same. The soundtrack even features a song called “The Punk and the Godfather”…. written by Pete Townshend…. in 1973.
39 years on, it’s still a great film… even if it is just punks in parkas.