So I guess IFC was having a Who-athon or something; I remarked to Viv as we flipped by that the band had been very lucky cinematically, with the three films they were involved with that I know of.
It was the closing scenes of Tommy we were looking at. Tommy is a completely ridiculous movie; but at the same time, that is what makes it great. Then the credits informed me, startlingly, that it was directed by Ken Russell, something I guess I had never bothered to even think about before, but which in hindsight should have been obvious to me.
A few hours later, I turned off the DVD player and flipped into the middle of The Kids are Alright, whose soundtrack of largely live performances I strongly prefer to the studio renditions also available. I recall seeing the film around 1982 in a theater in Europe and have seen it a few times since, but I had never really watched it as film critic or as a musician.
I was not prepared to be as impressed as I was. From the clever intercutting of many interviews, a clear picture of the artistic dynamic of the band emerges (there’s Pete, and there’s them lot), and although I hesitate to say such an obvious thing, Keith Moon’s improbable gifts as a drummer are also conveyed cinematically.
Even in the studio-shot segments, or possibly most strongly in them, the filmmakers insist on presenting a direct, pure-verite style that is very successful. We see the band apparently recording “Who Are You,” and the filmmakers cut between several tracking sessions, creating a visual analogue of multi-track recording without resorting to dumb effects like multiple exposures.
In that section, and elsewhere in the film, the visual motif of an isolated Pete Townshend crops up again and again, which is clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers – and possibly what Mr. Townshend himself would have desired as the film was in production.
The persuasiveness of the film in establishing this illusion of documentary transparency is fantastic. Watching it was a deep pleasure. I wondered, naturally, “Who the heck made this thing, anyway?”
The answer is that Jeff Stein and Ed Rothkowitz are primarily responsible. Rothkowitz was the film’s editor and an associate producer who was in charge of garnering the documentary footage, and Stein was the director and driving force behind the film.
A remastered DVD has been released, with information at this noisy flash-based site.
I found a long interview with Jeff Stein at the Hollywood Reporter, which I found fascinating.