Set against the backdrop of The Who’s famous concept album of the same name, Quadrophenia is a youth crime drama set in the 1965, which tells the tale of two groups of disenchanted British youths: The Mods and the Rockers.
Aside from being a cult classic for its effective portrayal of 1960s adolescent culture and amazing soundtrack provided by The Who, Quadrophenia is best remembered for its customized Vespa and Lambretta motor scooters.
Background of Quadrophenia
As previously mentioned, the 1979 film Quadrophenia owes its roots to The Who’s landmark double album, which was originally conceived as a mini-rock opera pertaining to the group’s four members. In the end, Pete Townshend decided to craft a story concerning one central character (Jimmy), like the band had done with Tommy.
As the name implies, Quadrophenia also has to do with quadraphonic sound, which was relatively new when the album was first envisioned. "The whole conception of Quadrophenia was geared to quadraphonic, but in a creative sort of way. I mean I wanted themes to sort of emerge from corners,” said Townshend.
Although The Who did not think of the film version, all four of its members were involved in the production, serving as producers. Furthermore, the band’s bassist John Entwistle took on the role of musical director for the adaptation.
Directed by Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia centers around Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a drug-loving mod that hates his job and parents, who would much rather prefer to cruise the streets on his scooter with his friends than anything else. Despite his unpleasant home life, Jimmy is able to find solace through his association with the exciting Mod lifestyle.
Jimmy is constantly in search of new thrills, including the film’s epic Mod v. Rocker motor scooter showdown, which features Ace Face (Sting), the Vespa-riding Mod idol. Regrettably for Jimmy, his mod escape proves to be an illusionary one as reality ultimately sets back in.
Motor Scooters in Quadrophenia
While Phil Daniels may have been the star of Quadrophenia, his 1967 Lambretta Li 150 Series 3 also turned in a memorable performance. The Italian company Innocenti manufactured the scooter, which became known as the “Jimmy Bike” after the movie’s release. The actual bike used in the film fetched a UK auction record of £36,000 ($55,800) at Bonhams Entertainment sale in Knightsbridge on in November 2008.
Aside from Jimmy’s Lambretta, the Vespa GS ridden by Sting is the film’s other scooter standout. The GS, which stands for Grand Sport, was a popular Vespa model throughout the 1960s. Interestingly, four customized Vespa GS models were made for Quadrophenia, two of which were destroyed in the climatic cliff crash scene. In fact, one of the destroyed vehicles still exits to this day in Scotland (albeit more of a collection of pieces, rather than a bike).
Unlike the Mods, the Rockers rode traditional motorcycles in the film. The Rockers, who were clad in black leather jackets and motorcycle boots, rode Triumphs in the film, which was also true for real life Rockers in the UK.
Though critically lambasted upon its release, Quadrophenia would go on to be a seminal cult classic worldwide. The film greatly contributed to the Mod revival, which occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s. Suddenly slim-cut cut suits and large leather overcoats were back in style. The resurgence can primarily be credited to Sting’s wardrobe in the film.
As might be expected, the scooter rally revival of the 1980s owes a debt of gratitude to the film. Various mod revival scenes throughout the ‘80s incorporated motor scooters into their repertoire, leading to the development of the scooterboy subculture. Originating in the 1960s, scooterboys typically rode Italian motor scooters and attended scooter rallies. Scooter rallies were held worldwide during the mod revival and even continue to this very day.
The film has even impacted the motor scooter industry itself, especially Vespa. In 2011, the Italian scooter manufacturer created a special edition Quadrophenia-inspired Vespa PX125 to celebrate the release of a new Quadrophenia director’s cut DVD.
In terms of its influence on film in general, Quadrophenia’s abundant usage of sex, drugs and violence is often cited as a primary influence for highly regarded British films like Withnail and I and Trainspotting.
- Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, was originally considered for the title role of Jimmy, but was replaced because distributors refused to insure him.
- The film was released just seven days after The Who’s drummer Keith Moon died from a drug overdose.
- Though unknown at the time, Quadrophenia features performances by Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew of the Harry Potter series) and Ray Winstone (The Departed).
- The film includes only 10 tracks from The Who’s original album.
- Quadrophenia was distributed by The Who Films, a short-lived company that released two other films: The Kids Are Alright (1979) and McVicar (1980).