Kids Are Alright, The (1979): Rockumentary Film about British Rock Band “The Who”

A rockumentary film about the British rock band “The Who,” The Kids Are Alright includes live performances and interviews from 1964 to 1978.

The Kids Are Alright
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Directed by Jeff Stein

It features the band’s last performance with original drummer Keith Moon, shot at Shepperton Studios in May 1978 just 3 months before his death.

Jeff Stein had no previous film experience, but he convinced the band to support the project with him as director. Stein had produced a book of photographs from the band’s 1971 tour when he was just 17. In 1975, he approached Pete Townshend, the Who’s principal composer and lead guitarist, about compiling a collection of clips to provide a historical reference for the band’s fans. Townshend was persuaded by group manager Bill Curbishley to cooperate.

Townshend also liked the idea that the film could “do the touring” for the band, when the guitarist was having doubts about life on the road.

When Stein and film editor Ed Rothkowitz showed a 17-minute compilation of clips from the American TV appearances to the band and their wives, they could hardly believe the reaction. “Townshend was on the floor, banging his head. He and Moon were hysterical. Daltrey’s wife was laughing so hard she knocked over the coffee table in the screening room. Their reaction was unbelievable, they loved it. That’s when they were really convinced that the movie was worth doing.”

Stein knew that many of the band’s best performances and most memorable moments had never been recorded or been lost, erased or discarded.

For more than two years, he collected film, TV and fan footage in England, the U.S. Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, Norway and Finland.  But there were gaps in the band’s catalog and persona that required new material. T

The process began in July 1977 at Shepperton Studios with a rehearsal of old songs, including the Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann. The crew then spent five days chronicling the daily life of drummer Keith Moon at his Malibu home, including his 31st birthday party.

Stein also recorded performances of songs not covered by the archival footage, particularly “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” A special one-off show at the Kilburn State Theatre in December 1977, staged for the film, was considered too rough to use, so a second show in front of invited audience took place at Shepperton Studios on May 25, 1978. Both songs were performed better, and were included in the film. “My Wife” from the Kilburn show was included on the soundtrack album but not on screen.

The sound editing was supervised by bassist John Entwistle, and, with the exception of a 1965 performance of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, “most of the sound was authentic. Entwistle got him and Pete to overdub their backing vocals on the Woodstock footage, because Entwistle deemed the original gig’s backup vocals “dire.” During the sound editing, on September 7, 1978, Keith Moon died. All of the band members except Townshend had seen a rough cut of the film a week before, and after Moon’s death, they decided not to change anything.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Fest on May  14,1979. The Who promoted the release with some live performances, which had their new drummer, former Small Faces and Faces drummer Kenney Jones.

A soundtrack album was released in June 1979, including songs and performances from the film. The album reached #26 in the UK, and fared better in the US, where it peaked at #8 on the Billboard album charts and went Platinum.

The film starts at the band’s only U.S. variety show, on September 15, 1967, on the CBS show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in Los Angeles following the end of their first US tour. They lip-synched the songs “I Can See For Miles” and “My Generation” and engaged host Tommy Smothers in switty ad-libs before “My Generation.”

After performance of “My Generation” they began smashing their instruments. Moon had packed an explosive charge in his bass drum which set Townshend’s hair on fire and rendered him deaf for 20 minutes, while cymbal shrapnel left gash in Moon’s arm. Townshend then took the acoustic guitar Smothers was holding and smashed it to bits.

Clips of a 1973 interview from London Weekend Television’s Russell Harty Plus appear throughout the film. While Harty delves into the background of the members’ lives, Moon steals the show as he rips off Townshend’s shirt sleeve and then strips down to his underwear.

One of the TV interviews features Ken Russell, the director of “Tommy,” who makes an outrageous statement: “I think that Townshend, the Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its decadent ambient state better than Wilson or all of those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!”

An early performance from ABC television’s Shindig! and one of only two surviving tapes from the group’s appearances on the British program Ready Steady Go!, both recorded in 1965, are included along with interview clips from BBC Radio, as well as mostly black & white interviews, stage, and blue-screen performances (such as of Tommy, Can You Hear Me?) on the music program Beat-Club, recorded at the Radio Bremen studios in Hamburg, Germany. Segments filmed in each of the members homes include conversations between Moon and fellow drummer Ringo Starr.

Performances from three of the band’s largest concert appearances attest to the band’s progression from the British mod scene to global superstardom:

Their reluctant show at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on August 17, 1969 was not perceived an artistic success, but it helped “Tommy” become critical blockbuster.

Warner allowed Jeff Stein to look through 400,000 feet of film from the three-day festival. Stein then reconstructed a “new” cut of the Who’s song highlights (as opposed to the “split-screen” images from the original “Woodstock” film). He chose “Sparks.” “Pinball Wizard”, and “See Me, Feel Me.”

The group’s 1975 US tour reached peak before a crowd of 75,962 at the Pontiac Silverdome on December 6. The images in the film were broadcast to large screens in the stadium.

The band’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 18, 1967 brought about their first big media exposure in the US. In the film, the Who’s Monterey Pop appearance cuts away to footage from past concerts depicting the band destroying their equipment before returning to the destructive end of “My Generation.”

Some chapters in the film resurrect performances that were discarded or thought to be lost.

When the English National Opera allowed the band to play in the London Coliseum on December 14, 1969, the show was recorded for later release. The poor quality of the footage, however, made it expendable, and Stein retrieved the footage from a trash dump.

A promotional film for the song “Happy Jack” was shot on December 19, 1966 for BBC Television series called Sound and Picture City but the show was never aired.

The film includes rousing performance of the group’s first “rock opera” — “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” shot in December 1968.

Keith Moon died only one week after he had seen the rough cut with Roger Daltrey. After Moon’s death, the rough cut was kept, since Stein and the band wanted the film to be a celebration of his life and career with the Who.

For many years the film was released on VHS in edited 90-minute form, extracted from TV broadcast copy made in the 1980s, which was a program of the RCA SelectaVision CED version, a format then popular. Several scenes were removed and the audio had pitch problems and dropouts, due to different stocks and original fegions. In 2003, DVD edition of the film was released, based on the restored 35mm interpositive.

Credits:

Produced by Tony Klinger, Bill Curbishley
Music by The Who
Cinematography Anthony B. Richmond
Edited by Ed Rothkowitz
Distributed by New World Pictures

Release date: May 14, 1979 (Cannes Film Fest); general release, June 15, 1979.

Running time: 101 minutes

Note:

TCM showed the movie on September 5, 2020.