Saturday, December 29, 2007

Captain Walker didn't come home

Left: Tommy's mother, Ann-Margret, swims in baked beans, for reasons unknown, in Ken Russell's version of The Who's TOMMY (1975).

If you've never seen Ken Russell's phantasmagoric version of The Who's rock opera Tommy, you will have the chance tomorrow at 6pm EST, on Turner Classic Movies.

As a big Who fanatic, I will admit here: I used to hate the movie. As a teenager, I wanted the story of Tommy to be all hippie-sensitive and Dr Phil... sort of like the Broadway version turned out, I guess. But now? Bollocks, as Pete Townshend would say.

How often do you get to see Roger Daltrey dosed with acid (by Tina Turner, no less) borne by hundreds of hypodermic needles in some kinky-weird lotus-blossom creation? Keith Moon as child-molesting Uncle Ernie? ("Your mother's left me here to mind you/Now I'm doing what I want to!") Check out Jack Nicholson, as Tommy's concerned physician, sagely intoning "He seems to be completely un-recep-tive! The tests I gave him show no-sense-at-all!" And BTW, where did this American doctor come from? And how did American Ann-Margret get to be the mother of Roger Daltrey, with that Shepherds Bush accent of his? And who doesn't want to see Ann-Margret swimming in baked beans? Come on, admit that you do not see that every day.

Ken Russell is berserk, and extended his berserkery to the film. For those of us who had very definite ideas about Tommy, who he was, what he represented, the movie smashed all of that to hell. Of course, I now see that this deliberate iconoclasm was the whole intention; Townshend was giving the finger to those of us who were deifying Tommy, which was the warning delivered in the rock opera: Don't deify human beings. Only God deserves our worship.

Left: Tommy passes the acid test.

There is one truly incredible, bang-up sequence in the movie, delivered by hizzoner Eric Clapton, which I have included below. The blues classic Eyesight to the Blind (written by Sonny Boy Williamson) was the only non-original song in the rock-opera and was simply too perfect not to include, since Tommy IS deaf, mute and blind. This sequence--Tommy's mother taking him to a faith-healer played by Clapton at a Marilyn-Monroe shrine--is Ken Russell at his finest and most trippy. (Other times, if you've ever seen Russell's indescribably bizarre films The Devils or Lair of the White Worm, you know he can drift far off into Andromeda somewhere... Earth to Ken!) This particular sequence manages to be just bizarre enough to be utterly fabulous.

Great observations, meditations and hallucinations about music, God, worship, disability, trauma, child abuse, sexual abuse, religious hucksters and all of that good cosmic stuff. If you've never seen it and you have a taste for the strange, don't miss it.



Bryce said...

pills & booze 4 communion! like marilyn! took me a minute 2 get that. that is Crazee! (inna good way)

Daisy said...

Speaking of just getting it... I just realized the baked beans are from the cover of THE WHO SELL OUT. (Duh!)

I guess Ken Russell musta thought Ann -Margret would look better swimming in beans than Roger did, on the album cover. ;)

Rosa said...

Thanks for showing that clip, that looks fabulous, trippy and crazy. I'm not sure if we get that channel at work (or in the house-too many channels on cable I can't keep track of them) but if we do I'm watching it.

Love Ann-Margret's hat, too.

Vanessa said...

Ann Margaret is so cool in this movie.

Kim said...

Oh I love Tommy!
I love "Christmas" -- "Did you ever see the faces of the children they get so excited!"

And the one, forget the name, towards the end, doctor and son, "What is happening in his head? Oooooh, I wish I knew. I wish I knew."

And I still get goosebumps at "LISTENING TO YOU! I GET THE MUSIC!"

Other non-Tommy Who fave song: "The Kids are Allright."

Casdok said...

I love that film!!!

abstractjenn said...

Ahhhhhh Daisy - love love love the Who. Roger Daltry....sigh

My favorite is Sally Simpson.

belledame222 said...

omg, Ann Margaret splosh. AM is one of the few women who can actually make baked beans, if not sexy, at least palatable.

and yeah, Ken Russell is truly -special-.

Anonymous said...

Having seen this movie in 1982, I just got goosebumps from you talking about "LISTENING TO YOU, I GET THE MUSIC"