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By Jack Murphy • August 31st, 2012
The Who Films

Original release: September 14th, 1979
Running time: 122 minutes

Director: Franc Roddam
Writers: Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, Franc Roddam, Pete Townshend (uncredited)

Cast: Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting

Scene 01:36:40 to 01:40:04

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far


Set against the backdrop of 1964, Quadrophenia is the story of Jimmy the Mod. He’s not just any Mod, he’s THE Mod. Draped in a parka over the top of a fitted suited straddling a Vespa popping ‘blues’ Jimmy (Phil Daniels) sweats, breathes and lives Mod culture. Part of that culture is a vapid hatred for anything ‘Rocker’; as their natural born enemy they inevitably fall into quite a few scrapes throughout the film.

Based on the classic The Who album, it takes us on a journey through these two opposing subcultures all from the perspective of young Jimmy and gives us an insight into what it is to be young and reckless in 1964.

Having seen this film numerous times it’s always struck me as a classic story with, at the time, a very contemporary twist. Focusing on youth and young manhood, there’s a heavy emphasis on how these young Mods and Rockers perceive themselves and everyone around them. Chanting ‘We Are The Mods’ with a militant march is indicative of how they see themselves with specific personas and fluent identities.

Christine Jacqueline Fieldman understands how the Mods see themselves as being tied into their own sense of modernity:

The Mods, dressed in their dapper attire and riding Vespas, believed they were truly modern – that they alone personified “the future” and “change” […] They also thought the Rockers – dressed in leather and riding motorcycles – symbolized the past. Rockers embodied the uncouth ignorance and urban grit of working-class life that Mods wanted to escape. ¹

Their sense of modernity is tied into the cash that sets them above the ‘working-class life’ they want to distance themselves from. There’s a lot of cash being thrown around: pound notes here, fivers and tenners there on expensive fitted suits, scooters to match and drugs to enjoy it all with. This freedom of money, in a way, extends to their actions: they see themselves as invincible and wholly free.


This is where the routine, almost compulsory, violence comes from that we see in London and Brighton. As they run through the riots in the holiday town of Brighton they dodge police, beat each other up and it all culminates in one young lady (Leslie Ash) becoming so sexually excited about the whole thing that Jimmy actually has sex with her. It’s quite clear that the violence of their subculture has fuelled her libido which then feeds back into the necessity for more violence.

When we take the Mod vs. Rocker setting out of the picture, this is a coming-of-age story, straight and simple, with all the classic staples: drifting apart from an old friend because of social differences, gate-crashing a party and disagreements with parents…
It is, in fairness, a bit more excessive than your run of the mill coming-of-age. They beat up rockers, spend a lot of the film looking for and taking pills, smash up cars and beat up more rockers. At the heart of it though there’s a story here that resounds more than just great music and violence. As with all coming-of-age stories Quadrophenia is inextricably bound to the fear of growing old, fitting in and what to do when you fall out of step with everyone else.

In this story there’s been a large emphasis on setting up the scene for Jimmy, but the latter half of the film shows a very sharp decline, particularly following the great peak of the Mod at the Brighton riots. It’s from this moment that the sense of identity as a Mod converges with the coming-of-age story to create the distinct film that is Quadrophenia.

For me the defining point of the film is the scene where Jimmy meets Steph outside of her house shortly after he’s been kicked out. We’ve seen the powerful Mod fall from grace: Jimmy’s lost his family, his friends, his girl and he himself is totally lost:

Look, I ain’t mad!

What is wrong with you, then?

Well, I dunno. It’s just… it seems like everything’s going backwards. Steph?

You sure it’s not you going backwards?

Jimmy’s strong sense of modernity and how he sees himself has been shattered. He wants to live in that world he created for himself: a world where he has meaning and purpose. Jimmy saw himself as the future – a figure that stood head and shoulders above his parents, his boss and their generation.

He hasn’t gone backwards, he just hasn’t gone forwards. Or more to the point – he just hasn’t kept up with what was really happening at the time. This scene is so well Quadropheniacrafted because it is so stripped back. There’s simply two characters walking, talking and shouting; the theatricality of the drugs, sex and violence has gone and all that’s left is a confused Jimmy and a frustrated Steph.

I mean, nothing seems right, apart from Brighton […]

Brighton was just a giggle – that’s all.

Brighton for Jimmy was a defining moment of being a mod, but to everyone else it was all just a bit of fun. To his friends being a Mod doesn’t stand for change or the future, it’s just a way to dress and act. Whether they took it as seriously at the time as he did or not doesn’t matter – they’ve all gone back to work the next day and carried on working to pay for their weekend Mod trips. They have their part-time Mod life funded by their full-time jobs.

This idea of being ‘truly modern’ that Jimmy holds so close to his heart is diminished. We’ve seen Jimmy fall apart, but it’s when he verbalises it and comes up against Steph, who completely stonewalls him. He’s come-of-age, but not in a way that helps him move on with his life – instead it has just undermined his existence so far. He wouldn’t look back fondly at this time in his life as an era of learning, but rather a time that stripped down how he saw himself and his friends.


  • “We Are the Mods”: A Transnational History of a Youth Subculture By Christine Jacqueline Feldman ¹

The final part of that scene says it all: his scooter gets run over by a car. The Mod icon has been hit by a car and Jimmy’s sense of self has completely fallen apart. Again the simplicity of this moment rings true to Jimmy’s breakdown and the destruction of that image and ideal of the Mod. This is why this particular scene embodies the coming-of-age tearing down with the modernity of the Mod: the style and consumerism that comes with the Mod can just as easily be dropped, smashed, ignored and forgotten until all that’s left is a frightened child.

Though Quadrophenia is inescapably about Mods and Rockers it does carry through these universal themes of angst-filled youth trying to find their way in the world. It manages to speak to a very specific generation – the 60s Mods, and to an extent the 80s Mods revival culture – yet it still maintains a broader voice which makes it such a great coming-of-age film.

Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.

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