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My older brother bought an LP The Who's "Tommy" in the 60's. I was very young but I liked it. It was a project ahead of its time. In the 70's I had a fantastic music teacher who played music soundtracks of several rock artists for my class, included was The Who's Tommy which I remembered immediately. Three years later, this movie came out directed by Ken Russell. I didn't get it at all. I loved the new soundtrack, still do. I loved the performances in the movie by Elton John and Tina Turner. But as a young teen, the movie I didn't get. Well, 20 years went by and on cable I saw Tommy again. This time, I got it. I understood what Ken Russell's vision was and for 1975 it was WAY ahead of its time. It is, in fact, a brilliant masterpiece of 20th Century pop culture: a brave, warped and cartoon mixture of sex, violence, war, religion and celebrity worship with the backdrop of one heck of a rock opera and story by The Who but focusing on the burning questions...what IS the central focus in our lives? Do we choose to look up to the right thing in our lives? And what do they look up to? Do they understand the power they have? Do we? Tommy is an experience in film, not for everyone. Its "out there" but a vision in its tale.
I first came across Tommy when I saw the West End theatre production
about 10 years ago, and I instantly fell in love with the music and the
plot. However, at the time I was only 11 years old and couldn't really
appreciate the many levels to Tommy. I did watch the film pretty soon
after but was constantly comparing it to the show and to me it didn't
even come close.
Now I'm a little older (and hopefully wiser), I have watched the film a lot in the past couple of years and all I can say is WOW! The music is fantastic, Pete Townshend is a genius, and the way he uses it to tell the story is awesome. When you listen to the original Who album a lot is left open to the imagination as regards plot, and I think its important to realise that Ken Russell's film version is merely one interpretation of the story told by the music.
Having not seen any of Russell's other work, it's impossible for me to say that this is typical of him. However, what I will say is that the imagery he uses in the film really does spark a lot of interest, for example the hypocrisy of organised religion and icon worship (particularly when Tommy causes Marlyin Monroe to crash to the floor after the rest of the church have been "brainwashed" by the priests).
A lot of people criticise the film for its cast, particularly Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholsons' debatable singing abilities. However I feel that this only adds to the sleaziness of their characters, especially Reed's - I think if he was note perfect it would be out of character. I think Ann Margret is fantastic as Nora - it's obvious that as Tommy's mother she feels torn between the love for her son and the love for fame and money, and she portrays that really well. As for Roger Daltrey, what a voice and what a body!!
I think it's important not to take the film too seriously though, like I said it's just one interpretation. I feel that "Tommy" as a whole - the music, words, story etc can only be fully appreciated if you listen to and watch as many versions as you can in order to make your own opinion of it.
When her husband is lost in WWII, Nora Walker is left with an unborn
baby to raise by herself. Years later she has a fantastic son, Tommy,
and is being courted by 'Uncle' Franks Hobbs. However when Tommy sees
Frank and his mother killing his real father, he becomes
psychosomatically deaf, dumb and blind. This way he stays all the way
through to adulthood regardless of what his mother tries to get him
cured. Running away from home one night, Tommy finds himself in a
junkyard where he finds an old pinball machine and begins to play it.
When he turns out to be a natural born wizard on the pinball table it
not only leads him to a cure but also causes a religious following to
spring up around him.
Being born in the 1970's and not really being a retro type of person, I have never gotten into The Who but I am always willing to give a film a try no matter what period it is from or what genre it is. I approached Tommy with hesitancy aware that I may not like the music and that it had a reputation for being all over the place. Well, suffice to say that the latter is certainly true and if you're coming here looking for structure or decent plotting then you'll be not only disappointed but also a touch bewildered! The basic plot is an obvious swipe at religion and, as such, I'm rather surprised this film doesn't have a legacy of Catholic protests (it may do but usually things like that stick with a film forever, like Life of Brian) following it given the amount of religious imagery in it. It doesn't totally work as it isn't clever enough to be really interesting or sharp enough to serve as a clever attack at religion. However it still manages to be great overblown fun from pretty much start to finish.
Credit where credit is due, Ken Russell doesn't run the risk of being remembered as someone who suffered in moderation no, if he can have Ann Margaret rolling round on the floor then why not cover her in tinned food product? To that end his direction is relentlessly over the top and it actually helps the material because the plot and music are both over the top and revelling in 1970's excesses. It is never funny in a comedy sense but it is fun in the same way as going to a big show like Rock Horror can be, it's hard not to get caught up in the music, performances and sights of the film as everyone is really overdoing it and it's fun! Not being a fan of The Who, I was still won over by the music here like a west end show mixed with rock and served on top of sliced ham, it is catchy, overblown and enjoyable to listen to. The cast also help and all manage to deliver their lines well even if some of them are not singers as their day jobs.
In fact the cast is a big part of this film working quite as well as it did their performances mostly match the overblown feel of the film. Daltry isn't a great actor but he does well here apart from the odd slip up. Ann Margaret chews the scenery with every chance and her performance is memorable (and I think was Oscar nominated but I may be wrong). Reed hams it up like a good'un and appears to be enjoying himself immensely although given the people involved in this film and the legendary habits he had I would not be surprised if it was something other than the film itself that gave him that lecherous leer! The real gold in the film though is a collection of cameos that may not all work but all add to the film: Tina Turner IS The Acid Queen, Elton John gets the best song of the film, Clapton doesn't make as much of an impression as I would have liked and the presence of Jack Nicholson is as good as it is surprising!
Overall this is a silly, shambolic film that makes very little sense and is not clever enough to make the points about religion that it tries to. However it is overblown, musical and fun to watch with a great collection of people from the period in small roles all through the film. It may frustrate many, which is why it is a 'cult' film as opposed to a classic hit but, for all it's flaws, I found it enjoyable and fun in a big silly OTT way!
Tommy is one of those films I can watch again and again. I guess I
first saw it when I was about 15, and what made most immediate impact
was the music. Strident and tightly coupled to the plot. The Who are
brilliant, and Elton John as the Pinball Wizard is just mind blowing
(if slightly camp).
I have since watched it countless times and it wasn't til I watched it in, how shall I put this, an illegal state of mind, that I actually realised how well the film hangs together and it's real meaning. Up until then I mainly watched it for the music, but after that it became a whole different ballgame, and I watched it to extract more of what Ken Russell was really trying to get at.
Anyone younger than about 30 probably will not understand this film at all, but if you are of the right generation, see it a couple of times because you may not get the meaning the first viewing.
Several memorable performances - Elton John as the Pinball Wizard, Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, Ann Margaret as Tommy's mother and - of course - Ollie Reed who has never done a bad film.
I first saw this movie a few years back whilst going through my Uncle's
collection of records, tapes and videos etc. To be fair I was fairly
sceptical about the prospect of spending at Saturday night drinking and
watching a musical film involving "The Who" (a band I had obviously
heard of, but not actually really listened too) with my Uncle. However
my Uncle has great taste in music and has introduced me to many great
bands and albums over the years, especially 60's rock music.
I think my initial reaction to the film was it had some great scenes, mixing fantastic music with iconic imagery, some very interesting cast members, and a very strange dark humour throughout most of it.
The scenes which I were first really drawn to were 1951/what about the boy? (whether Oliver Reed can sing or not without severe editing, he fits his part perfectly and both he and Ann-Margaret shine during this scene), Acid Queen (an amazing performance by Tina Turner) and Amazing Journey.
Due to enjoying these songs/scenes so much I revisited the film a few times and then really found the true depth of the movie. The songs are top notch, with the above mentioned and others such as Christmas, Pinball Wizard, I'm Free, Sally Simpson and Listening To You amongst the best. Every scene is almost mesmerising in it's own way (apart from Eyesight to the blind, although I love Eric Clapton, I just do not enjoy this part at all).
I had been looking for this on DVD for sometime, and in the meantime had purchased the original CD (interesting how some songs are better on the CD whilst others translate better in the movie) as a substitute. I was of course extremely pleased at the recent 2 Disc Collectors Edition release and did not hesitate to make my purchase.
OK, the story is not your run of the mill, easy to understand type and I think it is open to all kinds of interpretations, the main thing is the movie is a visual and musical feast almost like an extended ultra good pop video.
Tommy (1975) was the film adaptation of the Who's classic concept album
Tommy. The film and the album are slightly different (the re-recorded
songs pale to the real deal). But it was interesting to see avant-garde
film maker Ken Russell re-imagine Tommy for the big screen. The movie
has an all-star cast of eccentric and top stars (Oliver Reed,
Ann-Margaret, Jack Nicholson) and pop stars (Tina Turner, Roger Daltry,
Keith Moon, Eric Clapton, Elton John and The Who themselves, as a group
The music was changed and performed for the movie. Most of the dialog was sung (by all of the actors) and Ken Russell changed some of the story to fit the movie. If you're a fan of the album you might be disappointed by the movie. But it's worth a watch just to see Oliver Reed, Ann-Margaret (in total HOT mode) and the others as they make cameo appearances and guest spots. I was slight disappointed but I was pleased with the results. I just wished they used the original music whenever they could.
Recommended for Who and Ken Russell fans.
It's been interesting reading all the reviews here for this movie. It seems
you either love or hate "Tommy". I find it odd that you could completely
hate a movie with the music of "Tommy". If you love the songs there has to
be something about it then right?
I happen to be an admirer of the film. It's not a masterpiece but it succeeds more then it fails. Director Ken Russell has brought his weird sensibilities and ideas to the film and made it more a series of scenes then a coherent story. Yes it is bizarre. Yes it is odd. But the music keeps the film alive and flowing.
It seems apparent that Russell the director may have let some scenes run on a bit too long (the Marilyn Monroe worship scene for one), perhaps because he was bereft of ideas. But he always had the music.
The performances range from terrific to downright awful. Ann Margret is the best thing about this movie. Her Oscar nomination was more then deserving. Her fabulous voice went well with the songs she is asked to perform. Oliver Reed was always a dependable performer but he can't sing worth a lick. Either he should have been dubbed or the part re-cast. Roger Daltrey is just fine in the title role. Basically all he does is sing and smile. For the female fans out there he does go shirtless a lot as well.
There are many cameos in the film worth noting. All the members of The Who are seen though only Keith Moon has a role to speak of. Pete Townshend and John Entwistle are relegated to performing on stage in the worship scene. Tina Turner is the Acid Queen in a bizarre scene that doesn't quite work. Jack Nicholson (and this may be the only time this can be said about him) may be the worst thing in the whole movie. His role as a doctor is short but not so sweet. He sings but is a terrible singer. It's an embarrassing scene and no surprise that he never mentions this role. Paul Nicholas, as cousin Kevin, who babysits Tommy and subsequently tortures him is terrific.
On the whole most of the sequences work. For me the two best sequences are the pinball wizard tournament (with Elton John) and the making of a groupie sequence. And just remember, it's all in the music.
This is a Ken Russell movie, make no mistake. It is relentlessly twisted, ugly, savage (for a sometimes humorous effect) and trippy. Russell may be the oldest flower child of all time. Surreal plot concerns a deaf-dumb-and-blind boy becoming the new Messiah to a pinball-crazed population, and the film has been accused of being too literal to The Who's rock opera source material. In this age of lavish music videos, it has also been tagged as archaic. Though nobody seems to care anymore how a film was perceived in its time, I would say the picture still succeeds in doing what was originally intended: shake an audience up with freaky visuals and propulsive music (nicely arranged). It also does something else: creates actual characters from the music, a plus due in part to the fine acting of Ann-Margret as Tommy's glamorous mother, Roger Daltrey as Tommy, Oliver Reed as Tommy's stepfather (Reed is hammy but quite game, while the role is designed as both a villain and a hero), and Tina Turner, an extremely scary presence as the Acid Queen. "Tommy" has some bummer scenes, and Russell's love for degradation occasionally made me wince, but it is a real cinematic experience. Whether it involves or alienates the viewer depends on their appreciation for the English director's constant penchant for the bizarre. **1/2 from ****
Anybody generally familiar with opera will immediately recognize that
the Who's Tommy suffers from neither a weak nor outrageous nor terribly
surreal nor even bizarre storyline in comparison to what passes for
plot in many classic operas.
And anybody generally familiar with 1970s cinema will note that Ken Russell's envisioning of this film was actually one of a very small handful of intelligent and serious musicals produced during that decade, not a psychedelic experiment or a contribution to the avant-garde.
Many of the less complementary comments offered here on IMDb concerning this movie appear to be driven by commenters' personal opinions or prejudices about The Who or about Ken Russel, and seem to have very little to do with this film.
In 1969, The Who released their wildly innovative breakthrough album "Tommy". Written almost entirely by 23-year old Pete Townshend, Tommy was, like many albums of its time, an early example of album-oriented rock. But unlike similarly assembled LPs by the likes of Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, etc., Tommy told a story through music and lyrics.
Tommy knew his father - Captain Walker - mainly through the photograph which has stood on the nightstand next to his bed all of his young life. His mother, Nora (Ann Margaret), a war widow, has shacked up with "Uncle Frank", a well-off and well-intentioned but rather low-brow gentleman (Oliver Reed). One night, Captain Walker comes home to find his beloved wife in bed with Uncle Frank, and Uncle Frank, in a panic, kills him. Tommy witnesses this and Nora and Frank expand the trauma by shouting silence and near-catatonic autism into the young boy with the classic lines "You didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no one, never tell a soul... what you know is the truth."
So Tommy grows up in a state of trauma-induced deafness, muteness and blindness. Guilt and sincere love drive his mother and her new husband Frank to seek every possible cure, and Townshend (and Russel) waste no opportunity to skewer religion, medical science, traditional family dynamics, and testosterone-influenced views of sexual rites of passage.
Eventually, Tommy and his mother will find their own cures - in quite unexpected places. And Tommy will offer his apparently miraculous awareness to the rest of the world as a universal form of salvation.
Although the medium of the album and the film is rock music, Tommy strings together many of the most powerful elements of classical opera. Religion plays an important, though atypical, role in Townshend's story. Allegory is a key to understanding the entire process. And both the lyrics and the film incorporate widespread and often incisive social criticism - touching on broad intellectual themes such as the escape from freedom, the subjectivity of truth, and the inherent futility and silliness of most efforts to improve the lot of humanity.
If you let yourself 'go with it' Tommy will likely take you places you've never been. I won't promise that you will like it, but rather, that if you keep your mind open and let it pour in, like most operas, Tommy will move you.
WITH REGARD TO THE FILM:
Facing a nearly impossible task, Ken Russel enlisted Townshend, Daltrey, and a host of very talented and popular musicians and actors to make Tommy. Most of the time, this works - Ann Margaret, Roger Daltrey, and cameos by Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Tina Turner and Keith Moon are all outstanding. Unfortunately, Oliver Reed, as well-cast as he was, has no vocal talent to speak of, and Eric Clapton has the on-screen charisma of a desk lamp.
Despite the common 21st century wisdom concerning the amount of experimentalism in 1970s films, films like Tommy, Rollerball, Deathrace 2000, French Connection, Solyaris, 2001, etc, were actually very few and far between during that decade. In fact, most of the films released in the 1970s were so uninventive and uninteresting that they can only be found on public domain download sites and budget mega-pack DVD sets.
Although Russell was a shoe-in for directing this film - given his longstanding interest in visualization of classical music (http://pro.imdb.com/name/nm0001692/) and more challenging subjects, Tommy was - even for Russell - a wildly innovative film:
- NO DIALOGUE -
a singing cast tells the story, set against The Who's original music, and Russell's visual story-telling is as powerful and striking here as it was in Gothic and many of his better-known films. Oliver Reed's bellowing vocalizations are a bit overbearing, and too much synthesizer is added to embellish a score which was 6-years old by the time the film was released. But the problems with the sound track are at least partly made-up for by fabulously campy musical cameos by Tina Turner and Elton John, and - FINALLY - by Daltrey's excellent performance once Tommy himself gains a voice. Ann Margaret's singing is also quite good, but, unfortunately, several of her songs are infected by Reed's brutish howling.
All considered Tommy is a must-see for open-minded film enthusiasts, and particularly those interested in the evolution of the modern musical.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Who weren't known for making subtle music, and Ken Russell makes
anything but subtle movies. Put the two together to tell the story of a
very underprivileged child, who one day emerges as a self-proclaimed
messiah trying to preach an impossible message, only to be ruthlessly
exploited and viciously attacked, before finally crawling from his tomb
and ascending to the celestial realm, his job done, and you've got an
extravaganza of sound and cinema just waiting to explode on your
So why does it not work very well?
As far as I can see, they simply try to cram too much into it. As if the religious theme isn't enough, it touches on many of the problems starting to tear secular society apart in the early 1970s drugs, drunkenness, child abuse, pornography gambling, gang violence, dishonesty, etc, all played out against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of churches, scrap heaps, tatty holiday camps and beautiful Lake District mountains.
Despite an admiration for the central message of hope and spiritual purity, there is deep criticism of the abuses inflicted by organised religious groups this movie abounds with false prophets and money-making evangelism.
It's also, in vintage Russell style, garish, unnecessarily lurid, and filled with pretentious, surreal imagery, and though Pete Townshend's soundtrack contains one or two classics PINBALL WIZARD and I'M FREE, to name but two much of it is forced and rather shrill (and is way too long many purely musical moments could have been cut in half or removed altogether).
Performance-wise, Ann-Margret is by far the best thing in it. She sings and dances the house down as Tommy's sultry mother, remaining lithe and curvaceous through various incarnations, from homely '50s housewife, to '60s tart, to '70s glam queen, finally dying stripped of all adornments on her own cross a broken pinball machine. As the other 'thief', Oliver Reed a Russell regular can't sing for toffee, yet succeeds in evoking some sympathy for a character who in lesser hands would simply be a brutish villain. That leaves Roger Daltrey as the other main lead, the titular Tommy, and there's not a lot he can do, being deaf, dumb and blind for at least half the film, and for the rest doing what he normally did as lead-singer of a rock band, which is entertain massive crowds with grandiose and overblown songs. However, his first appearance jars the film badly; even for a Ken Russell movie, it's asking too much of the audience to accept Tommy's sudden transformation from World War Two runt, complete with a tank top and short back and sides, to a tanned, muscular hippie with bleached blonde hair and pearly-white teeth.
In terms of secondary characters, it's a mixed bag. Elton John gives an ordinary and overrated performance as the Pinball Wizard (his version of the song is, in truth, nowhere near as good as The Who's own), Eric Clapton lacks any charisma as a charlatan preacher and Jack Nicholson is completely wasted (but awful even in the short time he's on screen) as a money-grabbing doctor. Better by far are Tina Turner, whose Acid Queen is sexy but also disturbingly weird, Keith Moon, who's in predictably odious form as Uncle Ernie, and best of all for me, Paul Nicholas as Tommy's gleefully maniacal Cousin Kevin.
As rock operas go, this one is strictly second division, so in terms of movie musicals in general, it's way down the list. However, it packs energy and certainly, if it's the first time you've seen it, makes for compelling viewing much the way a freak-show would, if I'm honest, though there is a lot of talent on show as well, and it's worth watching at least once just for that (and for Ann-Margret, wearing tight clothes that are already semi-transparent, and then rolling around in a mess of beans and chocolate, but that's a different matter).
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