I remember the first time I watched Quadrophenia. It was 1983 and my family had recently purchased a VHS player (a very nice JVC toploader) and joined the local video club. Amongst the usual fodder of action movies and college sex comedies I rented and enjoyed was the British film Quadrophenia. Chosen by my father, who was a mod in the sixties, it was a startling contrast to the American films I had been viewing. I loved it. The language, the music, the style. Set in 1964 and based on the 1973 concept album by The Who, it tells the story of a young suburban lad by the name of Jimmy Cooper, played with such enthusiasm by Phil Daniels. Frustrated by his surroundings, he takes great pride in being a mod as it gives him a sense of identity away from his parents’ normal existence. The dialogue is razor sharp, very realistic (at least to anyone from London) and very quotable.
Stylistically the film is as much about the mod revival of 1979 (when it was released) as it is the 1960s, and is littered with historical inaccuracies, but that doesn’t matter. The low production values only add to the film’s charm – if you can call a movie that drops the c-bomb regularly ‘charming’. The scene where Jimmy talks with passion and excitement about the suit he is having made – to impress Steph (played by a young Leslie Ash) – is priceless … “three buttons, side vents, sixteen inch bottoms, dark brown”, he raves. With this suit he is no longer just a junior in the post room of a Soho advertising agency. He becomes a “face”; a well-dressed mod to be admired by his contemporaries.
There is another great scene where Jimmy goes to the tailors to pay the last instalment on his suit. Before the days of credit cards or free bank accounts this was the way for the working class to obtain made-to-measure. Another truthful historical nugget is how the tailor isn’t some Carnaby-esque boutique selling ‘fab gear’, but the local men’s outfitters. In the scene, another young mod is having a fitting and is arguing with the tailor about the suppression in the waist as he wants a closer fit. “Fuckin’ rent-a-tent, innit”, mutters the customer’s mate to a very harassed tailor. Even getting a suit made to your specifications is a battle but this only adds to the siege mentality of the mod. It is them against the world. I would also point out how well-fitted the suits are compared to the recent high street skinny suit fashion. The mod suit was slim but the only person in the 1960s who wore his tailoring that short and tight was Norman Wisdom.