December 5, 2020

1975-04-23 – Quad City Times

1975 04 23 Quad_City_Times_Wed__Apr_23__1975_

When The Who released
the album “Tommy“ in 1969.
it was hailed — and rightly so
- as one of the most ereative
pieces of rock music to
emerge from a decade spiked
with British Beatles and
blues.

A sustained musical tale
of a deaf. dumb and blind kid
who rose to messiah status
through the glorification of
pinball exploits and his sub-
sequent eure, “Tommy“ got
dubbed a rock opera spawn-
ing a whole new rock genre,
so to speak.

ALWAYS bddly compara-
ble to the near-savior role
rock music played and still
played for the stereo-toting
eoneert faithful. the story was
later parlayed into a concert
production first by The Who
and later by a range of musi-
eians including Rod Stewart.
Ringo Starr and Maggie Bell.

But 1975 brings us. in
“quintaphonic” sound that
ought to send audio system
bugs scratching at stereo
shop doors. the film version
of “Tommy" that’s brought
to you by the Robert Stigwood
Organization folks who turn
about everything they touch
into gold. from “Jesus (‘hrist
Superstar“ to last summer‘s
Eric Clapton tour.

About $3.5 million or so
has been sunk into “Tom-
my." and the turnstyles seem
to be spinning with the preci-
sion of Rumpelstilskin‘s
wheel. Undoubtedly. the mov-
ie‘s the big: buck. as subtle a
spectacle as its director. Ken
Russell (“Women In Love.”
“The Boyfriend").

Russell — who lately has
reveled in filming biogra-
phies of long ago dead com-
posers —- is quoted “firmly
and without hesitation" as
calling the rock opera “izreat-
er than any painting. opera‘
piece of music. ballet or (ira-
uiatie work that this eentury
has produced."

Nor does he underestimate
its theme.

“I could sum up the story
and meaning of ‘Tommy‘ in
two words: Findingy God.“ ex-
horts Russell in a heayenly-
hyped press release. ”Not
finding a (iod. but finding the
(lod who exists within all of
Us."

Obviously. then. Russell‘s
cinema version ought to pack
more wallop than a paper
saekxbut it doesn‘t.

WIMT YOU GET in
“Tommy.“ instead. is juke-

box cinema.

You plunk in
three bueks or so, and you
get a nonstop, satisfying dou-
ble album‘s worth of quality
roek. Tattered. perhaps, in
spots and sometimes vocally

mangled from the original
versions, but at least it comes
through comfortably intact.

The images. on the other
hand. become a simple
sereentraek — basically
tuned to complement the mu-
sic. Like different tracks on
an album or selections on a
jukebox. sometimes they cre-
ate seenes/songs you‘d like to
drop a quarter in to see/hear
again (particularly bits with
Elton John and Tina Turner)
and sometimes they just heat
up and warp.

There is no dialogue in the
film. even in a one-song role
for a singing Jack Nicholson
as a medical specialist. From
Tommy‘s conception near a
waterfall to his convenient re-
turn there after the death of
his mother Nora Walker
(Ann-Margret) and “Uncle"
Frank (Oliver Reed) lover,
it‘s rock music, singing dia-
logue and sound effects all
the way that were all pre-re-
corded before the film was
shot.

Young Tommy suffers his
malady at an early age when
his actual father. Capt. Walk-
er (Robert Powell), a World
War 11 British pilot believed
dead. returns to find Mum
and scuzzy Frank together.
So poppa gets bumped off by
the lamp-wieldlng Frank,
with the innocent kid looking
right in on it.

WELL, TOMMY‘S seared
into never seeing, hearing or
telling about it. as the song
goes, whieh shuts him up for
good, and then is subjected
through carnival rides. ferris
wheels. and numerous other
indignities by Frank and
Nora and later some real
straight-out masochism by a
pair of babysitting,y wonders,
Uncle Ernie (The Who‘s
Keith Moon) and Cousin Kev-
in (Paul Nicholas).

By the time Tommy has
grown up to be played by
Roger Daltrey of The Who.
he‘s staring at mirrors a lot
and the folks want to cure
him by trying first a blues-

playing apostle (Erie (‘lap-
ton) at a shrine to St. Marilyn
as in Monroe — whose pop
culture plaster statue is sup-
posed to heal the sick.

No luck there. as well as
in a night with the burlesque
house‘s tempestous gypsy Ae-
id Queen (Tina Turner) ——
even in so squeamish a por-
trayal she'll flush your face
and sink you into your seat.
And the woman can sing. how
she can sing.

ONE NIGHT Tommy (lis-
eoyers pinball and soon he's
hailed as the conquering hero
of the sport. particularly aft-
er a packed house watches
him finish off Pinball Wizard
(Elton John) in one of the
film‘s pure entertainment
scenes that has the Paul Bun-
yan-like Wizard singing the
well-known tune while
perched in three-ioot tall plat-
form and maybe size 86
shoes.

Even Who members Pete
Townshend. who plays guitar
like a windmill. and John En-
twhistle join in the banner-
waving crowd by smashing
their guitars. a sort of trade-
mark that's symbolism is
probably far more advanced
than most of Russell‘s juve-
nile infatuation with Freudian
symbolism and pop culture
comment.

Witness poor Ann-Mar-
gret. who flings herself about
with an oblong pillow after
getting doused with soap
suds. then baked beans and
Chocolate during Russell‘s
sophomorie comment on tele-
vision commercial products.

Such obsessions, as well as
one with water (still more
hippily heavy palp) in a
cheap “l‘m Free" song scene
when Tommy finally gets
pushed through the mirror
and into a cure. grow bone-
weary by film’s end.

fashion speczalists
m Sizes 18 to 60
and ’6'} to 32":

VILLAGE SHOPPING CENTER f

turd (Elton
:19th all. bemoans the loss

of Its crown to Tommy (Rog-
er Daltrcy) at the amusement
machine during a scene from
the tilm version of “Tom-
my," now showing at the
Showcase Cinemas. Milan.
Guitarist John Entwhistlc
and drummer Keith Moon.
both of The Who. provide EI-
ton with a rock music back-

ground.

inema’

BY THE TIME the now- .
roek standards close its mu-
sic out. Tommy has formed a
new fanatical religion (with
army-unit‘ormed type disei-
ples) that teaches pinball and
uses a erosslike “T" as its
emblem.

It ultimately turns on him.
despite a elumsin-sung eho- -
rus of the excellent song‘
“We're Not Gonna Take It"
and not even Russell‘s drivel-
ly reversion to the conception
site at the finale eould ruin
“Listening To You."

Tommy is like a slam-
bang roller coaster ride that
bumps you around a lot amt
scatters numerous peaks. like
Miss Turner's casting. the
Elton John sequence and the
(‘lapton presence. in between
lulls in cinematic eoneept and
phony. simplistic message at-
tempts.

“TOMMY IS A better roek
movie than most others of the
past drug-seotted decade."
reviewer Frank Rich of the
national magazine New
Times said. “But the best
head movies — the kind Rus~
sell can never make - are
those that shake our brains
instead of just rattling our
skulls."

I)ireetor-sereenwriter Rus-
sell tries to say something
against a lavish Busby Berke-
ly musical background. which
clearly shows his ability to
create something less rele-
vant and more 1970s extrava-
gant than the Zieglield Fol-
lies.

When the message ma-
chine is turned off and the
good musie-sequenees are
turned on. all is well —— even
if the high and mighty theme
officially remains missing in
action like (Iaptain Walker.

— Steie Baker

Salesmeu First

Salesmen drive their ears
the greatest number of aver-
age miles each year in com-
parison with the record of
other occupational groups.

/-’