“Hey everyone, for those of you who don’t want to watch The Who, Animal Planet is playing something else at halftime.”
That was how someone a few years younger than me explained his enthusiasm for one of the greatest rock bands in history. I protested his announcement. Who on Earth would want to change the channel during The Who? “Not everyone like The Who” was the only response given. I hope this man takes the time to watch this film. By force if necessary.
It is true that, like many classic rock and roll bands, The Who today exists more as a nostalgia act than anything else. Their live performances have become almost kitsch items. It’s a shame-they were on top for many years. The Kids Are Alright chronicles this time period, from the 1960s until roughly the time when Keith Moon died. Yes, it is a documentary. No, it does not really include new footage. It is mostly pulled from concerts and television appearances. It had been a while since some of the footage had been seen; still it was more of a nostalgia trip than any earth shaking revelations. But what it contains is enough-The Who are one of the looniest, greatest bands ever.
The film is also exhilarating, one of the best musical documentaries anywhere. Sharp eyed viewers will be able to see where the footage comes from (There are pieces from Woodstock and the Monterrey Pop Festival) but what is especially interesting are the interviews. The band never gives a straight answer. They are clearly always performing their roles, from the wild one (Moon) to the intellectual one (Pete Townshend). Sometimes, interviewers attempt to dissect their music. Yet the band usually laughs at their attempts. Townshend goes as far to dismiss The Beatles (when you play the backing tracks, it’s alright) and denies his own accomplishments. The most tragic is Moon. He died of an overdose only a few months after this film was completed-his physical transformation is a marked one. Yet he never gives up his childish spirit, even when it involved tearing up Townshend’s sleeves and trying to beat up interviewers. Today, Moon laregly exists as a victim of his own myth-people were expecting his performance to be his personal life. It cost him dearly-but the footage shown really help give Moon a more complete persona.
And what of the performances? Why are the Who considered great? Well, they practically invented the modern rock concert. This is due to the extreme hyper kinetic abilities shown on stage. Every member played a role. Roger was the “frontman” in the dictionary sense-he generally was the face of the band and set the tone for show with his outlandish costumes and his microphone twirling. Everyone else followed his lead-from Townshends wild arm movements to Moon making his drum explode. Many try to emulate The Who’s performance-few have succeeded in creating the loony sensory overload they create. A circus, they deem it. How true.
What is incredible is how the film wishes to capture the essence of The Who. This is not meant to merely give you an idea of what the Who are meant to be. It exists to give a portrait. Few directors have the same level of passion for the subject. No concert films do-most exist only due to the money that may be involved. Even at this point, few knew if this would be successful. The Who had not exactly been the dominant force in music at the time and already had their best work behind them rather than in front of them. To see a film like this exist solely out of love-well, that has to be worth something, doesn’t it?