I’m out of town at the moment, covering the Toronto International Film Festival, and this morning I snuck away from the film buffs for a couple hours to catch the world premiere of Murray Lerner and Paul Crowder’s Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who at the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM’s screening room is pretty uncomfortable, but apparently the festival wanted to take advantage of the digital-projection and high-decibel sound system. Both the ROM and the nearby Cumberland multiplex are built over the subway system, and you can feel the trains rumbling beneath your feet, though in the case of the Who movie, I have a feeling the subway riders were the ones annoyed by the excessive noise.
This was the one lollipop on my busy screening schedule, though I wasn’t expecting much: Lerner has spent the last few years squeezing every last dime out of the footage he shot at the Isle of Wight festival, chronicling it in the concert movies Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival, the dire Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, and the more worthwhile Listening to You: The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. My hopes fell another notch when the opening credits revealed that the movie was produced partly by VH1, and fell again when Sting appeared onscreen. I know he played the Ace Face in Quadrophenia, but please!
Of course any documentary on the Who lives in the long shadow of Jeff Stein’s The Kids Are Alright (1979), one of those rare rock movies—like A Hard Day’s Night, The Last Waltz, and The Song Remains the Same—that are actually part of their respective bands’ legacies, as opposed to merely recording it. (There’s also an excellent video collection of live performances, The Who—Thirty Years of Maximum R&B Live.) Amazing Journey aspires to be more complete than The Kids Are Alright, opening with a Beatles Anthology-style chronicle of the band’s genesis (it even mimics the Anthology‘s visual device of digitally fading players in and out of archival photos as the lineup changes). There are also some new performance clips, including a brutal “Heat Wave” circa 1966 and a ragged “Who Are You” from the Shepperton Studios show that yielded “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for the Stein film.
Stein had the good luck to complete his movie just before Keith Moon keeled over, and to some extent Crowder and Lerner make their best contribution in covering the band’s sorry decline: Moon’s death, the dismal albums with Kenney Jones, the tragic 1979 Cincinnati concert where 11 people were trampled to death, the hollow Tommy and Quadrophenia anniversary tours, John Entwistle’s sordid death in a Vegas hotel room, and Pete Townshend’s trumped-up arrest on child pornography charges. The movie ends with Townshend and Roger Daltry issuing smoochy testimonials to each other and hugging it out onstage; it’s presented as an uplifting resolution, though as anyone familar with the Who knows, the band was a lot better when they were trying to deck each other.