Acid Queens & Screaming Teens: Behind The Who's Epic Tommy

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The Who -- Sensation: The Story of Tommy Eagle Rock Entertainment, 113 mins, $19.98 Blu-ray/$14.98 DVD

Tommy, Pete Townshend's opus about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who could sure play a mean pinball, has become the gold standard for rock operas since the release of the double album in 1969. The story has also been adapted for live concerts, a really freaky movie, and glitzy Broadway production.

But in this documentary, likely the definitive look at the piece, surviving Who members Townshend and Roger Daltrey, along with a gaggle of journalists, artists and sympathetic talking heads, relate the story of the opera's creation. Combining historical background and track-by-track analysis, which is more interesting to watch than that sounds, the documentary shows how Tommy also saved The Who.

On the verge of breaking up with its past success as a singles band fading -- "We were a singles band going nowhere," Daltrey offers -- Townshend's ambitions turned to writing a masterpiece that would combine rock music with an operatic tale that their audience could relate to.

"We deserved one last big splurge," he says on the DVD.

That splurge succeeded brilliantly.

Daltrey and Townshend are also frank in their assessment that it was during the Tommy tour that Daltrey morphed into a real front man, embodying the character in all long curly hair, muscled bare chest, fringed jacket and microphone twirling.

Late Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle appear briefly throughout in archival clips. But the success of Tommy would not only bridge the Who from the pop singles band to heavy rock gods they became, it also showed the maturation of the genre. And provide classic-rock radio with a litany of playlist stuffers like "Pinball Wizard," "I'm Free," "We're Not Gonna Take It," and "See Me, Feel Me."

More importantly, it's fascinating to see Townshend (always an insightful interview subject) and others tick off the litany of issues that Tommy addresses that weren't discussed in any media at the time, much less rock music. Some came straight from Townshend's own dark past.

Story continues on the next page.

Child abuse, sexual abuse, drugs, pandering celebrity culture, false religious icons, murder, desperate soul searching, family secrets -- it's all there. And Townshend gives credit to the band's manager/producer Kit Lambert for pushing him in the writing process and never wavering in his faith that the project would succeed.

While Tommy today, of course, is lauded as an important and lasting work, the band and Townshend in particular took a huge risk in its initial release. I mean, a rock opera?

Bonus footage includes the band's 1969 appearance on the German TV show The Beat Club, playing a generous dose of selections from the album with interview segments.


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