Amazing Journey: Story of the Who (2007) dir. Paul Crowder, Michael Lerner
Firstly, they certainly could have thought of a more creative title. Anyways, the road from working class London to becoming British invasion pop stars to rock opera Gods is always a good story. The Who's journey is as salacious as any – humble beginnings, tempestuous infighting, drugs, sex, death, child porn. It’s all in a career’s work for Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon.
The Who started out in London England in the early 60’s influenced by what inspired many of the bands at the time, American Blues and Skiffle. It so happened the most obscure member of the band bassist John Entwhistle was the most talented and was one of the first members along with singer Roger Daltrey. Though I do wish there’s was more deconstruction of their music, I was pleased enough to see, at the opening, the emphasis on John Entwhistle’s amazing bass licks on the definition of their distinct sound. We then learn how Pete Townsend and drummer Keith Moon joined the band. The 60’s takes up most of the film highlighting their early gigs, their influence from and on the Mod culture and their lead up to their first big breakthrough, “Tommy”.
It’s amazing that every three or four years there’s a major beat in their career that puts them back on the map as relevant and influential artists. In the 60’s there was the smashing of their instruments which, early on, became their gimmick. Though I really wanted to know just how many instruments they've smashed in their career and how many instruments they carry on the road with them. I guess that’s a trade secret. Some of the other career benchmarks include the legendary Monterrey Pop Festival. There’s some clarification of the rock myth about the argument over who would go on first, Hendrix or the Who. A good chunk of screen time is devoted to the production of “Tommy”, but for me not enough about the even better album, “Who’s Next”. We get to hear anecdotes about the great song, “Baba O’Riley”, but nothing on “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I guess I’ll have to watch the “Classic Albums” episode on that one.
Unlike many other top 60’s bands, in the 70’s “The Who” got bigger and better. “Quadrophenia”, “Tommy-the Movie” and “Who Are You” kept them on the map. There’s also their accidental influence on the British Punk scene in the late 70’s. It seems over the years, the band kept getting bigger and cooler. Then, of course, Keith Moon dies in 1979. If there were a top ten of ‘craziest rock lifestyles’ Moon’s would certainly rank high. Though his bandmates and colleagues reflect poignantly on the loss of his life, they also don’t hesitate to say that if anyone had it coming it was him. Daltrey sums up Keith Moon best when he says, “whatever Keith was given by anyone, he would take it.”
I assumed the film would end after 1979, certainly the creative output of their careers died, and so I expected the film to slowly peter out after then. But surprisingly there are some more dramatic beats in the 28 years after. We learn about the uncreative 80’s that saw the band breakup and how the bandmembers suffered from rock withdrawal. Entwhistle – perhaps the most interesting band member – spends all his money on clothes, and Daltrey and Townsend get back into drugs after almost a decade of cleanliness. It's hilarious listening to Townsend’s admonition that the reason they got back together in the 1990’s to tour was to get Entwhistle out of debt – twice. And the details of Entwhistle’s death in 2002 is a head-scratcher. With a smirk they describe the joy with which Entwhistle must have left this earth – after a concert, in his hotel with a naked girl and some lines of cocaine. And the man was 57 years old. Wow.
I was wondering how Townsend’s child pornography allegations would be brought up and dealt with, but Townsend surprisingly does address the issue and put it to bed. The film successfully defends him and makes it a non-issue.
The presence and sound bites from likes of Eddie Vedder, a polite Noel Gallagher, Sting, The Edge and more add even more credence and perspective, on the influence of the band. Their music also sounds fantastic of course. There’s nothing terribly juicy or earth shattering about the film though. And much of it is a boilerplate narrative. It doesn’t hit the bar of Julien Temple’s “The Filth and the Fury”. Missing is, well, the filth and fury of that film. But for fans of the band (like myself) it’s comprehensive enough to make it the definitive film on “The Who.” Enjoy.