Monthly Archive: November 2008


By its musical structure alone, The Who’s Quadrophenia opened my eyes and my intellect to the endless possibilities offered by the metaphor; add to that its compelling and challenging narrative structure, and you’ve got something that, to my mind, qualifies as a masterpiece.

Quadrophenia centers on a young kid in 1960s England named Jimmy. Jimmy comes from a hard-luck, working class family. He wants to be popular among his friends. He also wants to be a good son, a good worker, and a great lover. In the midst of trying to be all things to everyone, he realizes that he presents four very distinctive personalities to the world over the course of his days: the tough guy, the romantic, the crazy fun friend, and the troubled son. All of these separate personalities are represented by a distinct musical theme, and each personality encompasses only one aspect of the real Jimmy; none of them represent who he is in his heart. On top of all this, he’s saddled with having a deeper insight into the human spirit than most people think a person of his station is capable. He admits that even he doesn’t know who he really is. Being a confused angry young man with rampaging hormones, it doesn’t take long before certain aspects of his other personalities start bleeding over into the parts of his life where they don’t belong.

There’s much, much more to Quadrophenia’s story, but that’s the spine of it.

This sounds like a ham-fisted cliche, but hearing this album for the first time changed my life. On side 4 of the album there’s an instrumental piece called “The Rock” which remains for me one of the most amazing and moving pieces of music — and that’s music, period, not just rock music — that I’ve ever heard.

In Tommy, the central character’s epiphany is conveyed through words and music; but in Quadrophenia, it is conveyed solely through music. “The Rock” starts off by repeating each of the four themes separately, then, one by one, begins overlapping them until the four themes blend seamlessly into one, creating a fifth, unique, defining theme as Jimmy finally realizes who he really is.

That was a revelation — ahem … uh, er … discovery — for the 12-year-old me. Pete Townshend and The Who had pulled an incredible musical sleight-of-hand, created a musical Rubik’s Cube that I hadn’t even realized existed until the puzzle was completed.

I knew then that I wanted to someday create a piece or body of work that did what Pete Townshend had done with Quadrophenia’s music; present you with a group of seemingly disparate pieces/themes that in the end converged into a unified whole that was not only rewarding in and of itself (as “The Rock” most definitely is), but also enriched the sum of its parts.

“The Rock” is a perfect metaphor for what we as human beings strive toward during every moment between that first slap on the ass and the last handful of soil tossed on the lid of the coffin; call it the psychological equivalent of string theory or whatever you will: we strive to bring the various Selves together to form the whole that is uniquely ‘me’ or ‘you’, all the while treasuring the journey that has led to this time, this breath, this moment.

The Manchurian Candidate

1962’s The Manchurian Candidate

A lot — a lot — has been written and said about The Manchurian Candidate, the film that put John Frankenheimer on the map as a director. How effective you’ll find the film today depends on your personal level of cynicism.

Candidate — a satire in the truest sense of the word — deliberately sets out to make the viewer uncertain as to whether or not it’s supposed to funny. Admittedly, some of the scenes in the film have an aura of comedy about them which I think was intentional, while others (scenes obviously intended to be serious) unintentionally draw chuckles. Laurence Harvey’s British accent seems ludicrously out of place for a veteran of the Korean War, especially since he’s supposed to be American, but once you get past his voice, you cannot help but admire his rich, complex performance.


Movie Review: Seconds

Seconds is arguably director John Frankenheimer’s best film. Based on the excellent novel by David Ely, in it we meet middle-aged bank executive Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph in a masterfully shaded performance) whose life is so miserable he walks as if the earth might open at any moment and swallow him whole. His job drains him of humanity. His marriage is hollow and cold. His self-respect is rattling its last breath. He doesn’t know how things came to this. He knows that he was once a decent man but he isn’t any longer and he can’t understand why. He feels alien to the world around him.

Then one day a stranger in the subway hands him a card with an address written on it; the stranger knows Hamilton’s name, and as soon as we see the expression on Hamilton’s face, we know that he has some idea why he’s been handed this slip of paper.

That night Hamilton is called by a supposedly dead friend. “I have a wonderful new life!” he tells Hamilton. “I’m happy, old buddy, and I want to do the same for you!”

It seems there are these “people” who can give you a new life. A new face. A new voice and identity. They can give you a life where you are successful at the thing you always dreamed of (in Hamilton’s case, being a famous artist). It costs a lot, and once the process has begun there is no turning back.

Hamilton, after much soul-searching, decides to go through with it, and embarks on a chilling journey to the secret headquarters where these “people” make arrangements for a new life. (He is taken there in the back of a meat delivery truck–some of the most unnerving black-humored symbolism I’ve ever encountered.) There he meets with the company president (Will Geer, Grandpa Walton himself, who is quietly and absolutely terrifying in the role) who has created this program. The decision made, the work begins, and soon Hamilton is transformed into the younger, more vital Antiochus “Tony” Wilson (played by Rock Hudson), given a new profession, a new home, a new life. Things are idyllic for a while, but eventually Hamilton’s conscience and its questions about his old life drive him to return to his widow in an effort to find out where he went wrong.

Frankenheimer always dealt with extremes in his best pictures, and Seconds is possibly the most extreme film he ever made. His penchant for lean storytelling and muscular pacing is at its peak here, as is his use of his ought-to-be-patented foreground framing technique.

The film’s biggest surprise, perhaps, is the performance of the late Rock Hudson. In a role originally slated to be played by Laurence Olivier (who the studio decided didn’t have Hudson’s box-office clout), Hudson displays a depth and power that viewers of Pillow Talk would never have thought possible.

Hudson’s face is a subtle prism of conflicting emotions; every joy, every sorrow, every triumph and regret is there, etched into his expressions like words on a headstone. When something hits at his core, you see it on his face–and not in any heavy-handed, watch-me, watch-me way; Hudson’s performance is one of impressive constriction, understatement, and substance, heart-felt and affecting, and (like the superb performance of Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler) a rare glimpse at a good but limited actor’s one moment of true and undeniable greatness–which gives this film an added dose of bitter irony when viewed today: had Hudson lived, would he have wanted a second chance to prove his worth as an actor of substance and power?

Movie Information

Release Date: 1966
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating: R (disturbing sequences and some nudity)
Color: B&W
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cinematographer: James Wong Howe
Writers: Lewis John Carlino (screenplay), David Ely (novel)

Rock Hudson: Antiochus ‘Tony’ Wilson
Salome Jens: Nora Marcus
John Randolph: Arthur Hamilton
Will Geer: Old Man
Jeff Corey: Mr. Ruby
Richard Anderson: Dr. Innes
Murray Hamilton: Charlie
Karl Swenson: Dr. Morris
Khigh Dhiegh: Davalo
Frances Reid: Emily Hamilton
Wesley Addy: John
John Lawrence: Texan
Elisabeth Fraser: Blonde
Dodie Heath: Sue Bushman (as Dody Heath)
Robert Brubaker: Mayberry