September 24, 2020

1975-04-20 – The Palm Beach Post

1975 04 20 The_Palm_Beach_Post_Sun__Apr_20__1975_

‘Tommy’ Isn’t Your Everyday Film

By conventional standards. "Tommy" isn't
much ol a movie But then producer-direetor Ken
Russell is anything but a conventional filmmaker.
and the word conventional can‘t be even loosely
applied to Pete Townshend‘s rock opera

In the film industry. Ken Russell com tes
with lrwm i"Towering Inferno“) Allen for e ti-
tle oi Absolute Prince of Wretched Excess With
"The Devils" and “The Boy Friend" Russell gave
complete rein to his imagination. translating
mental vrsrons into filinie ones In anyone else
this would be a virtue. but in Russell's ease the
process tends to smother all the other aspects of
the film.

But "Tommy" must have presented Russell
with an entirely new set oi problems. The visions

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and images already existed in Townshend's mu-
sre. and it remained for Russell to enhance them
and pass them along to the audience.

Depending on your powers of discrimination,
your ability to interrelate wildly dissimilar bits oi
sensory information and your talent for sitting the
gold from the sand. “Tommy" will either elec-
triiy you or drive you out of the theater,

Tommy is-a deaf, dumb and blind young man
struggling to break out of his interior prison. The
"cures" he submits to are more tortures than
healing processes. but following his coronation as
the World's finest pinball player. a miraculous
cure does occur. Then follow adulation. worship
and disenchantment. but his freedom to see, hear
and speak still remain.

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Through the medium of the musre of The
Who, Tommy emerges as an analogue of all man—
kind. cut off from the real world by its inability
to truly sense and responds Onee Russell begins to
translate this experience into visual as well as
audible terms, serious problems begin to appear.
The lack of structural coherence which we will-
ingly tolerate in a piece of music becomes insui~
ierable in a film. and so the lack of necessary
connections in “Tommy“ are a definite block to
comprehension. Like it or not. most of our minds
still operate in a traditional linear sequence, and
while we abide some deviations from this. we
can't do it for long. "Tommy" asks us to abide
for nearly two hours.

Moreover. Russel”: fantastic realizations of

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l’ete Townshend's images almost seem to rob the
Viewer of his own flights of fancy, It's as if the
director has taken over all the imaginaton for
himself. and now he asks us to simply sit still and
behold his superior mental processes.

To most vieWers already inclined to see
“Tommy." all this blather about technique and
emphasis is secondary to the purely musical ex-
perience oi the thing. Still. it's important to un-
derstand what Ken Russell has done with the mu-
sic in order to forestall any misconceptions about
the production, The wild. surrealistic ima es
piled one on top of another in this film can eit er
heighten nr deaden the musical experience, and

there's no predicting your individual reaction in
advance,

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An amazmg collection of rot'k and him stars
has been assembled for the film. but the anion is
dominated by Roger Daltrey as Tommy. Anne
Margret as his mother and ()liver Reed as her
lover. Elton John's appearance as the Pinball
Wizard is actually very brief, as is Tina Turner's
as the Acid Queen. Actor Jack Nicholson as the
Doctor hardly figures at all in the goings-on

Russell has stated in the film's preubook.
" 'Tommy' is greater than any painting, opera
piece of music. ballet or dramatic work that this
century has produced.” Given the tenor of his
past films. hOWever. flamboyance of this kind
ought to be taken with caution Maybe Russell
and the rest of us aren‘t living in the same cen
tury. — JERRY RENNINGEI

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