6Tommy9 0n the Screen: Two Viewpoints
BY ROBERT HILBURN
Times Rock Music Critic
As soon as the colorful, diverse cast of Ann-Margrct, El-
ton John. Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson and Eric Clapton . "
_ was announced. it was obvious that Ken Russell's film
version of the Who's rock opera 'Tommy' was going to be
something of a sideshow. Well, the carnival arrives today
at the Fox Wilshire.
In moving the worlt to the screen. Russell,‘a director
with the mixture of high style;hri11ianee, pretentiousnes
and simple outrageousnesa that we tend to label 'genius,‘
has felt free to change the tone, scape and content of
While the alterations were made with the Who's con-
sent (the rock group's lead singer, Roger Daltrey. plays
Tommy and its drummer, Keith Moon, portrays the leche-
rous Uncle Ernie). the result is a work of imagination and
passion, but it lacks the emotional urgency and compelling
impact of the original work. f
There was a certain universality in the Whe's version
.that allowed the band's audience to identify with some of
the early frustrations and trials surrounding Tommy. The
authenticity required to achieve that identification has
been buried, for me, in the film.
In its originaljorm. ‘Tommy' was a work of immense
emotional power and popular appeal: by most measmre-
ments the most successful rock (as opposed to the essen-
tially poperiented "Jesus Christ Superstar”) Opera yet at-
tempted. Between the origiml Who album (released in
1968) and Lou Reizner‘s orchestrated version, it has sold
an estimated 10 million copies. A soundtrack album from
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UNHAPPY FAMILY—Roger Daltrey is "Tommy,"
.Ann-Margret his mother in Ken Russell's film.
. THE MOVIE
BY CHARLES CHAMPLIN
Times Entertainment Edilot‘
Love him or leave him, Ken Russell is the most extrava-
gant maker of images in the movies today. Fellini and
Bunuel come to mind. and he shares with them a fascinaa' .
tion for the world's grotesques and cripples He has not re-
gularly shared their disciplines—Bunuel‘s austere in~
tellectual approach, Fellini's emotional probingy—which
‘shape the spill of images toward ends which are larger
:than the images themselves.
Russell first came to attention wi h his television doc~
umentan’es (docu—dramas. they woul now likely be call-
ed) on the lives of composers. They were startling and a
bit scandalous, but also reverential and revealed Russell's
deep appreciation of music, as "Mahler" recently has agaim
It was inevitable that Russell would one day find the
material ideally suited to his fabulist's imagination, and in
the rock opera "Tommy," originally conceived as a concert
recording by the Who. Russell has
' Like most of Russell's earlier work, it can be loved or
left and there will be no undistributed middle. But "form
my‘ is an overwhelming, thunderous, almost continuously
astonishing achievement. coherent and consistent tram
first frames to last.
Russell has taken What Was essentially an aural experz
ience and found the images to match and even enlarge Its
mountains of sound. The boring restraints previously
posed by the needs of fidelity to historical truth or the
lives of great men—whjch Russell generally threw oft
anyway—are not present here. The nice irony is that in
its extravagances. Tommy" is the most disciplined film he
has yet done.
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