October 27, 2020

1975-04-14 – The Evening Sun

1975 04 14 The_Evening_Sun_Mon__Apr_14__1975_


‘Tommy’ Is Russell’s


Russell was destined to do
“Tommy" on the screen. You
might say the eccentric. per-
haps mad English filmmaker
was merely finding (and fre-
quently losing) his way with
films like “Women In Love."
“The Music Lovers.“ “The
Devils," “The Boy Friend”
and "Savage Messiah.“

You might also say “Tom-
my" is the Russell master-
piece. and you might also add.
without hesitation. that “Tom-
my” is a mind-breaking. eye-
popping. ear-numbing hallu-
cinogenic experience as imag-
inative and exciting as it is

“Tommy" was written by
Peter Townshend of The Who
and was done by that group as
an album in 1969. on the A&M
label in this country. Predat-
ing “Jesus Christ Superstar”
by about a year and having
some similarity in plot, the
Townshend opera is not the
melodious olio "JCS“ is, lack-
ing any “arias“ of real weight,
but it has nevertheless sold
and has been produced here
and there by collegiate and
similar groups.

Easy to follow, if you pay
some attention to the lyrics.
“Tommy" is the story of a boy
born during World War II
when his father was a flier for
the Royal Air Force. Accord-
ing to the original. father
came home to kill mother‘s
lover. According to the Rus-
sell adaptation. father comes
home to be killed by the lover.
and in both cases. Tommy.

who is told he “didn‘t see.
didn't hear anything," be-
comes hysterically deaf.
dumb and blind.


H18 MOTHER. in an effort
to restore her son to normal-
cy. leaves him in the care of
his maniacal cousin, takes
him to an "Acid Queen“ for
”treatment" then shatters the
mirror into which Tommy
peers and beyond which he
lives. another Alice in Won-

The boy eventually be-
comes a pinball champ. dis-
placing Elton John as king.
then becomes a messiah when
he regains control of his sen-
ses. In time. his followers turn
against him. and he “sees the
light.“ the real light. the real
God. admitting it is from Him
he receives his strength. his
wisdom, however much that

All this sounds a little sim-
ple-minded and is. a hangover
from a decade when costume
and lifestyle defied tradition.
So are the lyrics. but Russell
has refused to be intimidated
by either What he has done is

take the opera overproduce it ’

Mommy has a lover

subway grate and where pari-
shioners take pills and drink
wine in communion with their

When Tommy becomes the
Pinball Wizard. a young girl.
married to an American rock
singer who looks like Fran-
kenstein's monster. joins the
faithful where she is tram-
pled. abused and carried off
by a sea of waving arms.

And before all this hap-
pens, there is John as the
reigning Wizard. in boots
maybe 10 feet high and other-
wise dressed like a tripper's
fondest vision.

“Tommy" is said to have
cost $3,500,000 but looks 10
times more expensive, proba-
bly because it was done in
England where that much
money goes further than it

does here.
THE EXTRAS alone must

have cost half a battleshipw
and though Russell. who even i
looks like something from '
“Tommy,“ filmed in part on

location. the pinball machines ‘
that clutter the landscape are .

a fortune unto themselves
Roger Daltrey of The Who


plays Tommy With muted de-
lusion then toothsome exhub-
erance. Ann-Margret Olsson is
his mother. Oliver Reed is
mother‘s lover, Tina Turner is
the Acid Queen, Eric Clapton.
looking the part, is a preach-
er, Keith Moon is Uncle Ernie.
and Jack Nicholson is seen
rather briefly as a specialist
more interested in Mommy
than he is in Tommy.

Nicholson makes devilish
fun of his role; Reed. because
he is only required to sing (I
don’t know in whose voice). is
less objectionable than usual
and is perhaps ideal for the
role of repulsive lover who ac--
eidentally murders Tommy’s
dad, and Miss Turner‘s partic-
ular skill, irritating and abra-
sive in almost every other
instance, is particularly well
suited to what she is doing

Miss Olsson, however,
leaves all others behind.
Though she, too. has no lines
(there is no dialogue in the
film). Miss Olsson is a vibrant
pop queen. a woman who shat-
ters her television set then
wallows in the beans, deter-
gent and related matter that
gushes from the set.

“Tommy" is showing at the
Towson where I saw it at a
special midnight screening for
a radio-promoted audience.
The attendees applauded John
and The Who and smoked de-
spite repeated requests not to.
The girl next to me kept time
to the music even when there
was no recognizable beat. and
some of the viewers took flash
shots while the film was in
progress. I didn’t look. but I
think they. the picture takers.
were wearing 10-foot tall
boots. too.

Please. those of you who
haven't been to a movie in
years. who were shocked by
“Shampoo" and who remem-
ber Maria Von Trapp with
great fondness. stay away
from “Tommy.“ Others.
aware of what the screen is
doing these days. are advised
to attend. “Tommy" is an un-
forgettable. memorable expe»



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mother takes him to a temple
where Marilyn Monroe is the
god. where priestesses wear
Monroe masks and Wigs.
where worshippers fall down ‘
before a figure of Monroe ‘
standing over that New York ‘

Nominated tor 11
Academ Awards

AW ““

suit mm»: A cur"