Dioramas Viewed Through Kaleidoscopes: Ken Russell's Film of Tommy
Good morning converts! I have no doubt that we'll be able to break some new ground here by studying "Ken Russell's Film of Tommy." Despite being thee unrivalled rock opera to end all rock operas and talked, written and performed endlessly, Tommy never stops morphing. In my lifetime thus far, Tommy has gone from a wild film on cable to a classic album you stole, begged or borrowed as a tween; then a 20th reunion revival act "featuring The Who and guests"; to a Tony Award winning Broadway play; various remastered cds, laser discs, dvds, blu rays and soundtracks galore; all the way to the present where Roger Daltrey and friends are performing it live and in classic original unadulterated style as we speak. Yet, the preceding was only a fraction of Tommy's many incarnations. It is one of the reasons why, in about two generations, that Tommy along with The Who as a band will be reappraised and as popular as ever much like The Doors were a decade after Jim Morrison died. Many will continue to perform the rock opera but no one will approach a remake of Ken's film.
The first view many of us Who fans ever have of Ken Russell is in the Kids Are Alright when his flamboyant TV interview precedes the Tommy segment:
"This countries' in a weird, feeble grotesque state and its time it got out of it and what could get it out of it is rock music. And I think Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon could rise this country out of its decadent , ambient state, more than Wilson and those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!"
When many of us saw the film as children we either were scared and could not deal or watched it on repeat over a dozen times (guess who?) I'd seen many live action Disney films and masterpieces like "Willy Wonka" with wild clothes, giant mushrooms and flying cars but Tommy to me was so uncluttered in comparison. Each segment was a impeccably laid out, dazzling diorama box viewed through a lavish colour dipped lens. Not psychedelic, not the messy breathing paisley blanket yet not sparsely Pop Art either. Sure one could use all those adjectives and be accurate though none of them are technically true. So much of the film mocks the convention of the adult world; the false stances, the neediness, the poses to impress the neighbours. As a child I picked up on that at once. I also had no problem working out that Tommy was "shocked" into deaf/blind/mute submission.
In the coming days I'll show how Ken lays each song's scene out so methodically that the essence of the corrupt adults in the film simply seeps through.