Last month, the fine people at Baractua pointed me towards the 1979 film QUADROPHENIA. Being interested in Mod culture, I’d heard a fair bit about the film, but never actually got round to watching it. I stayed in one evening and soaked it up. It’s brilliant.
For those as innocent as I about the film’s plot and background, here’s a very short overview.
The Who released their sixth studio album in October ‘73, this was called ‘Quadrophenia’ and told the story of ‘Jimmy’, a character with supposedly four different personalities, each representing a member of the band. ‘Quadrophenia’ is a play on the word schizophrenia.
The film is based on a similar story to that told in the songs: Jimmy Cooper is a young man (around nineteen) in 1965 who lives in west London. Jimmy is a Mod, owns a scooter and is very much ingrained in the youth culture of the period. The story is set against a backdrop concerning the rivalry between Mods and Rockers that was a concerning moral panic at the time. The huge, riot-like fights on the beach at seaside resort Brighton play a big part in the tale.
I won’t tell you the whole story, because it’s fun to experience it yourself. Needless to say, Jimmy gets into some scrapes, falls in love and develops over the course of the narrative.
What the film and the songs capture most successfully is the zeitgeist of the period and the feeling of being young and reckless. It’s not a particularly complicated story but the film and the album are crammed with late-teenage paraphernalia, culture and most importantly for this blog, fashion.
Quadrophenia is a bible for early Mod fashion. Just take a look at some of the pictures in this post; kids back then were cool. Although it’s not quite what we think of Mods now, there’s a lot we owe to these looks.
Jimmy’s new suit is an important point in the film. It’s part of his uniform for the Brighton fighting and his tool to impress the girls. Jimmy describes it; “three buttons, side vents, sixteen inch bottoms, dark brown.” It’s a bespoke tailored suit and only costs him 30 shillings. In today’s money, that’s £25.75. If only that were the way it was now.
In one scene, our protagonist wears a pair of new Levi’s jeans that are soaking wet. Jimmy is attempting to shrink-fit his denim so that they are fashionably skinny. I’m not sure if this actually works, but it’s a technique I’ve heard of before, so maybe there’s some truth in this.
The songs make reference to the style of the time too. In ‘I’ve Had Enough’ The Who tell us…
My jacket’s gonna be cut and slim and checked
Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck.
I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my war time coat in the wind and sleet.
If you’re interested in dressing like the boys in Quadrophenia, here’s what I could scrape together from the film stills that are available online.
Desert Boots. Available all over the place, but your best bet is to get an original pair from Clarks here.
Skinny, inch-wide ties aren’t too hard to find. You can search your local vintage or second-hand shop for them, or Topman have a good enough selection here. Better to get something vintage if you can.
There’s plenty of military parkas in the film, check your local army-surplus store for these. Also, if you’re looking for casual footwear, try plimsolls. You can find cheap, white plimsolls like the above on any high street in the UK.
It’s hard to find narrow-brim trilbys like these anymore. Also, it’s a bit of a difficult look to pull off.
The fashion in the film is paramount. However, what I found just as provoking was how much I, and doubtless to say many others, identify with the film. Ok, so I’ve never been involved with a riot in Brighton, but there’s so much in the film that rings true to late adolescence:
The situations that Jimmy finds himself in feel so familiar. Whilst watching the film I was thinking; ‘I’ve been to a house party just like that’ and ‘that club is just like where we used to hang out’. Jimmy has a job as a mail room boy for an advertising company. My first job was as a mail room boy and runner for a PR agency.
The album is infused with lots of little audio samples that bring back memories of busy pubs on a Friday night. Scraping by on not much cash while still having enough money to afford good clobber and socialise with your mates is a big theme in the film.
On an emotional level, the film and the album tell familiar themes. There’s a lot about trying to fit into but ensuring you stand out from the crowd, so that you can impress the girls on the dance floor.
Jimmy isn’t entirely sure what his true identity is. At a late point in the film he apes the appearance and attitudes of an enigmatic and androgynous character called ‘Ace Face’ as played by Sting (yes, that’s right, Sting of The Police, who was f*cking cool back then). This feeling of not quite knowing who we are at an early age is is probably something we can all identify with.
Importantly Quadrophenia is all about angst, angst and more angst. Who hasn’t felt a bit of this during their teenage years?
The film is a real gem. If you’ve got a spare evening this week, buy it or rent it and revel in it. You can pick it up from Amazon here. Although not as resonating for me as the film, the album is equally interesting. You can find it on Spotify here.
Baracuta ran a celebratory e-flyer for the anniversary of the film last month. Check out some of their context-sensative items here.
On a closing note, there was something else that kept on occurring to me throughout the film: How much Phil Daniels, the actor who plays Jimmy looks like our modern day Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Testament to how influential this period of fashion was to us today and the lasting popularity of the film.
Thanks to The Who Films, Universal Pictures UK, Baracuta and everyone I’ve borrowed images from (thanks!)