We speak to British cult film writer Simon Wells (pictured left) about his new book “Quadrophenia: A Way of Life (Inside the Making of Britain’s Greatest Youth Film)”
What impact did it make on you the first time that you saw Quadrophenia?
I was mesmerised, confused, enchanted, bewitched. Like many who saw it first time around – overall, it was the energy that totally captivated me. But beyond that, there was a raft of elements that were going on that made it fascinating. In a sense, Quadrophenia is a classic “Boy meets girl loses girl” type of film – a bit like West Side Story meets Saturday Night Fever – but the great thing was it was OUR story – a believable British film – one of very few.
Why do you think it has earned such a special place in the hearts of so many people over the last 35 years?
It’s the template for a generation; a blueprint for living. It’s a fierce reflection of youth – and that’s at the core of its appeal for me. That time period of 16-19 has a golden glow around it for many – and that is a time many of us reference as the most exciting period of our life. I haven’t heard anyone say, “I remember how great it was to be 27 or 35” No – it’s that time as teenagers that many of us remember as a slightly whacky period, and Quadrophenia is all about that.
Jimmy’s choice of Fred Perry Shirt and parka made it very easy for the kids on the street to emulate the leading character’s style. Do you think that helped people feel connected with the film?
Fred Perry like Quadrophenia never goes out of style – it was a wise choice of apparel – and ensures that the film will look eternally cool. I am not surprised Fred Perry formed a large part of Jimmy’s uniform during the film.
Quadrophenia has almost become the definitive historical document of Mod culture in Britain. Do you think of Quadrophenia as a second hand account of 1960s British youth subculture, or more as a first hand artefact of the 78-81 Mod revival?
It’s a good question and the answer is that it is actually a bit of both. If it was a straight reflection of 1960s life – it would fail – as it carries much of the fury of the late 70s Punk attitude. So welded together it is a very powerful, believable document.
What was the most surprising fact you un-earthed whilst researching the book?
In my researches I came across the story of a young Mod who actually fell to his death over a Brighton cliff in 1964 following the riots. It fascinated me, and I was intrigued to whether it inspired the album. Pete Townshend relayed to me that it did not, and he was surprised that it had happened - but then I found out that the boy’s brother went onto work for The Who and was a close friend of Townshend. So, it’s incredible – and if people are interested, the whole story is on a blog here.
You’ve written extensively about cult British cinema, including other iconic films such as ‘Get Carter’, and ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Do you think there have been any true Brit cult classics since Quadrophenia?
Very few to be honest – I would say Meantime (also starring Phil Daniels) is a bona fide British cult film, but few have seen it and it hasn’t got the romance of Quadrophenia. I wince when I hear films that are made in the style of a “cult” film because it doesn’t really happen that way – and with the internet, will probably never happen again in the future. Trainspotting and Withnail & I for me are probably the most famous cult films since Quadrophenia. While Trainspotting borrows heavily from Quadrophenia in terms of gang mentality and energy, Withnail and I is a bona fide cult object – the fanaticism to the film is very similar to those who follow Quadrophenia, and has endured generation after generation.
There’s been a lot of speculation in the last 35 years about the ending of Quadrophenia. Where do you think Jimmy Cooper is today?
Ha ha! What a great question. I think Jimmy is probably in a council flat – probably somewhere on the south coast - in his late sixties. He probably fathered a few kids in his time – not least the one with Steph! I sort of imagine life has been hard for him, and that he was unemployed a lot. In his quieter, reflective moments – he probably looks back on his time on the Mod trail – with great fondness – as we all do!
You can order Simon Wells' "Quadrophenia: A Way of Life" from Countdown Books, along with their other excellent titles dealing with British Subcultures of the Twentieth Century.