Could Quadrophenia be the ultimate cult movie? It’s a cult movie about a cult (the mod subculture of early sixties England) that inspired a cult (the mod subculture of the early eighties). Although Stephen Glynn selected Franc Roddam’s big-screen adaptation of The Who’s 1973 rock opera as the topic of his entry in the Cultographies series, he does not draw any such hasty conclusions. After all, Quadrophenia was a massive, mainstream hit film in Britain (if only with audiences; critics weren’t too thrilled with its violence and underage unrest). Images from the film popped up in advertisements. On U.S. shores it has long been a legitimate cult item, even enjoying screenings on the midnight movie circuit. And despite his declaration that the film is the “most enduring manifestation” of Quadrophenia, this is not really true— at least in America where the film continues to scuttle underground and the album is now regularly regarded as one of The Who’s best, if not the best.
That declaration is one of the few missteps in Cultographies: Quadrophenia, which is a ripping integration of background history (from the actual mod cult, through The Who’s role in it, through their look back on that phase with the Quadrophenia album, through Pete, John, and Roger’s individual roles in the film’s creation) and analysis. Stephen Glynn is the author of The British Pop Music Film, one of my favorite books of last year. He touched on Quadrophenia in that book and gets to expand his study as a part of the “historical” phase of pop films in Cultographies: Quadrophenia. He also looks upon the film—with its punk attitude and seemingly self-conscious anachronisms—as one very much in step with the Britain of 1979. As was the case with The British Pop Music Film, Glynn drops some overly academic speedbumps during the analytical portion but his book is never inaccessible. Cultographies: Quadrophenia is an insightful and multifaceted study of the four faces of one of the very best pop films.
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