The Who's Tommy was the first rock opera. When it came time to adapt the material for the silver screen, director Ken Russell, with his penchant for irreverent interpretations of classical musicians' lives and works, seemed like a natural fit. Russell certainly shapes the material to fit his particular vision; one is hard-pressed to think of any other filmmaker who would have Ann-Margret roll around in baked beans. Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Jack Nicholson all show up to sing a song, but mostly so that the audience will say, "look, there's more famous people," than to add anything musically or cinematically (only Tina Turner's rendition of "The Acid Queen" improves on, or even equals, the original performances). The album is, despite its length, compact and powerful, while the movie is visually, emotionally, and musically gaudy. Russell's visuals make it continuously watchable, but the film version of Tommy sacrifices the fragile emotional core of Pete Townshend's work for grandiose spectacle. Townshend is more rock, and Russell is more opera. The film adaptation of Quadrophenia would eventually capture Townshend's vision more clearly, but less spectacularly.
by Perry Seibert review