Matt O’Casey on his Quadrophenia documentary
This year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest featured a strong selection of music documentaries with subjects ranging from Glastonbury to John Cooper Clarke. One of the highlights was the inspiring but often tragic Quadrophenia: Can You See The Real Me? which examines The Who’s 1973’s rock opera.
According to the film’s director Matt O’Casey, the project started when Pete Townshend revisited a selection of demos, photos and other documents which often contradicted his memory of the album’s creation. “I think it was to do with putting his life in a fuller perspective,” says the director. “What becomes clear in the film is that for him, this was the end of The Who per se, the feeling that this is the last great album that they made.”
The first gig that O’Casey attended was The Who’s London Lyceum show during the Quadrophenia tour in which they played the album in its entirety. It was, he recalls, “a mixture of a semi-riot and a polite concert,” with balcony-based journalists pouring champagne on the audience below who responded by throwing glasses back at them. Conversely when Quadrophenia started, the audience’s reaction was lukewarm and within a year most of the material had been dropped from the set.
The first date of the subsequent American tour ended in farce when drummer Keith Moon passed out on stage after consuming animal tranquilisers. The consequences were peculiarly haunting: “Pete showed us pictures of Keith. He couldn’t walk and had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. He was larking around and making fish faces in the photograph. Pete tells a story of how he filmed him on a Super 8 camera. He was pointing the camera at Keith saying, “say something, say something,” but he couldn’t hear what Keith was saying. When he got the film back, he said that was this little voice was going, “help, help…”
Moon’s tragic death is well documented, while bassist John Entwhistle also died prematurely. Less well known is the story of Chad, the young man who posed as central character Jimmy for the album’s accompanying photography. “He encountered problems with drug addiction and ended up dying the same year that we made the film,” notes the director sombrely. “For me, growing up in that era, Jimmy wasn’t Phil Daniels. It was Chad. There were six years of our generation sitting there with that album, and you lived the album through the photographs. And Jimmy was always that kid.”