Genre: Musical, Drama
Director: Ken Russell
Music: The Who
Ken Russell’s faithful transposition of Peter Townshend’s rock opera, which stems from THE WHO’s 1969 titular 2 LP album. TOMMY, stars THE WHO’s frontman Roger Daltrey as the incarnation of the adult hero, is Russell’s coup de maître in regard to his visual abandon and ethos emancipation.
The narrative is constituent of miscellaneous episodes recounting the checkered story of Tommy in a chronological order, each goes hand in hand with a song from the album. The tale starts in 1945, a romantic honeymoon of newly-weds Nora (Ann-Margaret) and Captain Walker (Powell), the parents of Tommy. But captain soon will be declared missing-in-action in the fizzling war (but materializing in a twist and a recurring motif). Tommy is born as a normal child, but a traumatic incident will render him blind, deaf and dumb, to the despair of Nora and his stepfather Frank (Reed, conspiratorially lubricious). After a series of antic snippets where name stars lend their cameos, from Eric Clapton’s absurd Marilyn Monroe worshiped cult, to Tina Turner’s fantastically operatic turn as the Acid Queen, who turns herself into a syringe-riddled machine trying to bring Tommy out of his catalepsy (the metaphor here is obviously two-fold, along with directer Russell’s talisman, snakes). Before soon, Tommy is called upon by his mirror-self and finds his forte, the pinball machine, something would have become nearly obsolete four decades later, and defeats the pinball wizard (Elton John) to gain worldly fame (how ironic is that? A blind pinball genius!). A come-hither Jack Nicholson also timely crops up as a specialist, almost hijacks the film (and Nora as well) into a different route.
Tommy’s life orbit reaches another catharsis when he finally sloughs off all the physical barriers and starts to see, speak and feel the world around him, and becomes a self-proclaimed Messiah to indoctrinate spiritual purity in a world assailed by a shortfall of faith, but eventually (after a digression of an avid teenager follower Sally Thompson, played by Russell’s own daughter Victoria), his noble calling reaches an anticlimactic drawback, after convening all his disciples to a Tommy’s Holiday Camp, the mob proves to be too fickle to please, riot arises, parents murdered, premises combusted, a bereft Tommy escapes and finally fetches up at the place where his parents ignite their affection in the beginning of the movie.
Tommy, his loftiness, his numen, is too good for the self-seeking, ungrateful, and insidious mankind, this is what Russell tries to hammer home to his stunned audience, executed with his trademark lavish, chromatically lurid modality, the resultant movie is a grand spectacle to knock dead fans and non-fans alike, plus Ann-Margaret delivers one of her best performances here, so deeply invested in a role conceptually much confined to the platitude of a distressed mother, she even goes doolally to express a tangibly affecting intensity within Russell’s majestic close-ups and set pieces.