Tommy -Whitley Bay Film Festival

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Not in front of the children

Tommy – and the real Roger Daltry

The opening film for the sixth Whitley Bay Film Festival was a showing of the 1970’s rock musical Tommy. In a town without a cinema, the fortieth anniversary screening of this psychedelic feast for the senses, was at the Whitley Bay Playhouse.  Coincidentally, the Playhouse started off its own life as a cinema. Roger Daltry himself, the actual star of the movie, and lead singer of the Who, was there. He was making a personal appearance to do a question and answer session after the film. This was a real coup for the festival, and added an extra frisson to the evening.

Tommy fans at large

Pinball Wizzard

Fans congregated in the foyer. A rather magnificent custom designed pin ball machine ‘Back to the Bay,’ by local artist  Paul Harvey was on display. Matt Morrison was awarded the title of Whitley Bay’s Pinball Wizard. He had achieved the highest score on the refurbished pinball machines which had been sprinkled about the town for the past few weeks.

I myself had tried the ‘Demolition Man’ pin ball machine, in the Jam Jar cinema/cafe a couple of weeks previously. Based on that performance I posed no threat to the title holder.

Pinball rides again!

I hadn’t ever seen Tommy but I loved the Pinball Wizard song by Elton John. I was a fan of pinball, which my brother and I played years ago in the amusement arcades up and down the North East coast. They have long since disappeared. Now, soul-less digital machines have taken their place, as the real mechanisms of the pinball machines were tricky and too expensive to fix.

Tommy – a pop culture classic

Tommy doesn’t actually have any dialogue. It is entirely in the vein of a two hour long music video, in an era when the music video didn’t yet exist.

Set in 1975 it was screened a full six years before the existence of MTV. Two years before Saturday Night Fever propelled disco to the forefront of pop culture. Robert Stigwood (Saturday Night Fever) was involved in the film but it is the director Ken Russell’s outrageous vision which prevails.

It is self indulgent, flawed and far too long. It also has moments of absolute genius and arresting performances from Oliver Reed, and in particular the amazing Anne Margaret.

Anne Margaret – beautiful and bonkers!

Often seen only as a Hollywood sex kitten, Anne Margaret showed that you can be beautiful and sexy as well as complicated. In fact completely mad and bad as a woman all at the same time!

Tommy – a roller coaster ride!

The film is like one big drug induced roller coaster trip. A surreal dream scape which is nothing if not shockingly original. Tommy is about the big things. Family, love, religion, death, fame, disability, deceit, drugs and rock music.

Who can forget Tina Turner as the Acid Queen injecting LSD into Tommy to try and cure him of his deaf, dumb and blindness. 

Tina Turner is the Acid Queen

There was in fact a school of thought at the time which promoted taking mind bending drugs to release your inhibitions and deal with medical problems. 
Another memorable scene is when Anne Margaret off her head on champagne (and probably other things) is rolling around in a totally white room. She is being covered in Rex baked beans which shot out at her from the TV in an impressive orange torrent.

Oliver Reed as Tommy’s dodgy stepdad.

Oliver Reed – dodgy Dad

Equally beguiling was Oliver Reed’s archly lecherous holiday camp rep.  Tommy’s boozy step father. Some other notable cameos include Paul Nicholas as Tommy’s evil bully cousin who tries to drown him and then iron him on an ironing board.

There are quite a lot of scenes in church with people worshipping at the feet of a giant plaster statue of Marilyn Munroe and Eric Clapton playing the guitar in a kaftan. You get the idea.
Roger Daltry got a bit of a standing ovation when he appeared for his chat with Chris Phipps. He was certainly a charming and relaxed interviewee.

And I said to Keith Moon…

Roger Daltry – a true geeza!

Roger was described by Ian La Frenais – the patron of the festival – as a true gent and a geeza. He told how Tommy was his very first acting role.

After that he was bitten by the bug and took whatever parts he was offered in order to be able to learn the trade. Quickly tiring of the false world of Hollywood, he much preferred working in the music industry.

He regaled us with a few Keith Moon stories -the Who’s larger than life drummer who died of an overdose –  who appears in the film as the ‘kiddy fiddler’ Uncle Ernie.

It was a memorable evening. A crazy Ken Russell indulgence coupled with the audio assault of the Who in full flood. A host of famous names allowed to indulge their darker sides,make this a unique cinematic experience not easily forgotten.

Film festival fun

Checkout the showing of Nosferatu in Seaton Deleval Hall!