Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ken Russell|
|Produced by||Ken Russell
|Written by||Ken Russell
|Music by||The Who|
|Editing by||Stuart Baird|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
19 March 1975
26 March 1975
|Running time||111 min.|
|Gross revenue||$20 million|
Tommy is a 1975 musical film, based on The Who's 1969 rock opera album musical Tommy. It was directed by Ken Russell and featured a star-studded cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey plays the title role). Ann-Margret received a Golden Globe Award for her performance, and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Pete Townshend was also nominated for an Oscar for his work in scoring and adapting the music for the film.
Tommy's father, Royal Air Force Group Captain Walker (Robert Powell), is away fighting in World War II. His airplane is shot down before Tommy is born. His mother, Nora Walker, receives the news while at work in a munitions factory filling bombs with ball bearings. Mrs. Walker then gives birth to a baby boy, Tommy. She believes her husband is dead for nearly six years. She meets Frank Hobbs at a holiday camp and starts a relationship with him.
However, Walker had survived the crash and returns home one night. Tommy follows him to the bedroom where Walker sees Mrs. Walker and Hobbs in each other's arms. He then sees Hobbs kill Walker by smashing a lamp on his head. (In the original album version, however, Walker confronts his wife and kills the lover.) Tommy is then told that he "didn't hear it, didn't see it" and "won't say nothing to no-one". As a result, Tommy goes into shock and ultimately becomes non-responsive, leading people to believe that he is deaf, dumb, and blind.
The film jumps ahead ten years, and Tommy, now a young man, is being taken by his mother and stepfather on various attempts to cure him, including a religious cult (centered on Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch and led by Eric Clapton as The Preacher) and the Acid Queen (Tina Turner), a prostitute dealing in LSD who sends Tommy on a wild trip that ultimately fails to awaken him. Meanwhile, his parents are somewhat negligent of Tommy, and leave him in the hands of his sadistic cousin Kevin (Paul Nicholas), who beats him, and his uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), who molests him.
Tommy's only stimulus seems to come from a long mirror that he stands and stares into. Led alone into a junkyard at night by a vision of himself, Tommy comes into contact with a device that will change his life forever. A pinball machine among the scattered scrap metal junk yard allows Tommy to rise to national prominence and fame. Tommy's pinball prowess and defeat of the local champ (Elton John) transforms him into a folk hero.
Nora and Frank take Tommy to a medical specialist (Jack Nicholson), who confirms that Tommy's problems are psychosomatic. Filled with guilt and anger, Tommy's mother throws him into the mirror he stares into, shattering it. The violent act wakes Tommy into normality once more. He uses his new awareness to try to bring enlightenment to people. He starts giving speeches and enlightening people by canvassing. Tommy's stepfather exploits him to make money, and eventually Tommy becomes a worldwide religious icon.
Tommy sets up a holiday camp of his own, one that caters to his cult; but the mob soon rebels against his strict rules and fervor. They burn down the camp, killing Tommy's mother and stepfather in the process. Tommy is left alone, but with a greater sense of self-awareness as he faces a new dawn.
The film was the first and only film to be recorded with a Quintaphonic soundtrack.
In his commentary for the 2004 DVD release of the film, Ken Russell stated that the opening and closing outdoor scenes were shot in the Borrowdale valley of the English Lake District, near his own home, the same area that he had used to double for Bavaria in his earlier film Mahler, in which Robert Powell had starred. Much of the film was shot on locations around Portsmouth, including the scene near the end of the movie featuring the giant 'pinballs', which were in fact obsolete buoys found in a British Navy yard, which were simply sprayed silver and filmed in situ. Several other segments, including part of the Bernie's Holiday Camp sequence and the concert scenes in the 'Sally Simpson' sequence were shot inside the Gaiety Theatre on South Parade Pier at Southsea in Hampshire.
On 11 June 1974 the pier caught fire and was badly damaged while the production was filming there; according to Russell, the fire started during the filming of the scene of Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed dancing together during the Bernie's Holiday Camp sequence, and smoke from the fire can in fact be seen drifting in front of the camera in several shots; Russell also used a brief exterior shot of the building fully ablaze during the scenes of the destruction of Tommy's Holiday Camp by his disillusioned followers. The Pinball Wizard sequence was shot at the Kings Theatre in Southsea, others on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks Portsmouth and two local churches were also used, one in Old Portsmouth, the other St John's in Stamshaw.
The famous scene in which Ann-Margret's character hallucinates that she is cavorting in detergent foam, baked beans and chocolate reportedly took three days to shoot. According to Russell, the detergent and baked bean sequences were 'revenge' parodies of real-life TV advertisements he had directed early in his career, although the baked bean sequence also references one of the cover photos and a parody radio ad from The Who's 1966 album The Who Sell Out. Russell also recalled that Ann-Margret's husband strongly objected to the scene in which she slithers around in melted chocolate. During the filming, Ann-Margret accidentally struck her hand on the broken glass of the TV screen, causing a severe laceration, and Russell had to take her to hospital to have the wound stitched, although she was back on set the next day. The film also includes a scene in which Mrs Walker watches a parodic TV advertisement for the fictional product "Rex Baked Beans"; the costumes in this segment were originally made for the lavish masked ball sequence in Richard Lester's version of The Three Musketeers, and the dress worn by the Queen in the Rex ad is that worn by Geraldine Chaplin in the earlier film.
Elton John initially turned down the role of the Pinball Wizard and among those considered to replace him was David Essex, who recorded a test audio version of the "Pinball Wizard" song. However, producer Robert Stigwood held out until Elton John agreed to take the part, reportedly on condition that he could keep the gigantic Dr. Martens boots he wore in the scene. Russell also recalled that Pete Townshend initially balked at Russell's wish to have The Who performing behind Elton in the sequence, and also objected to wearing the pound-note suits (which were in fact stitched together from novelty pound-note teatowels).
The film version of Tommy differs in numerous ways from the original 1969 album. The primary change is the period, which is moved forward to the post-World War II era, while the original album takes place just after World War I. As a result the song "1921" is renamed "1951" and the opening line "got a feelin' '21 is gonna be a good year" changes to "got a feelin' '51 is gonna be a good year". The historical change allowed Russell to use more contemporary images and settings.
In the album, Group Captain Walker returns to find his wife with a new lover and murders him, but in the film this is reversed; the lover (Reed) kills Walker in front of Tommy, heightening the psychological trauma.
Unlike other filmed rock operas (such as that of Pink Floyd's The Wall) the album is never dubbed over the film; the different actors — including Nicholson and Reed, neither of whom were known for their vocal prowess — perform the songs in character instead of The Who, with the exception of Daltrey as Tommy and where Townshend sings narration in place of recitative.
Because of this, all the songs are rerecorded and the song order is shuffled around considerably; this and the addition of several new songs and links creates a more balanced structure of alternating short and long sequences. A large number of songs have new lyrics and instrumentation, and another notable feature is that many of the songs and pieces used on the film soundtrack are alternate versions or mixes from the versions on the soundtrack album.
Major differences between the 1969 and 1975 version:
Townshend also oversaw the production of a new double-LP recording that returned the music to its rock roots, and on which the unrecorded orchestral arrangements he had envisaged for the original Tommy LP were realised by the extensive use of synthesiser. The soundtrack LP also employed many leading sessions musicians including Caleb Quaye, Phil Chen and Nicky Hopkins (who also receives a "Special Thanks" in the album credits for help with the arrangements) as well as members of The Faces; Ronnie Wood and future Keith Moon replacement Kenny Jones. The song "Pinball Wizard" was a major hit when released as a single. Curiously, although the music for this song is performed by Elton John and his band, the film depicts Elton being backed by The Who (dressed in pound-note suits). Townshend performs additional synthesizer and/or guitar on all tracks. Credits to "The Who" indicate performances by Townshend, Entwistle and Moon jointly, regardless of vocalist.
|1975||Billboard Pop Albums||2|
|1975||UK Chart Albums||21|