The Who, the 1960s rock legends, pretty much popularized the “rock opera” with their 1969 studio release Tommy, leading the way for Quadrophenia (The Who’s second rock opera), David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and even Jesus Christ Superstar.
From The Who’s concept album came the 1975 musical film Tommy, which starred Who leader singer Roger Daltrey as the title character, a traumatized young man who doesn’t hear or see or speak, but rises to fame and iconic status thanks to his prowess at pinball.
Now, Hulu has posted the film online for free viewing for people in the United States (there’s no embed is available, so head over to Hulu to watch it). It will only be available for the next five days, so watch it while you can.
Some of the actors — namely Oliver Reed as Tommy’s stepfather — pretty much butcher the vocals on what are really great Who songs. But, there are some standout performances overall, like Who drummer Keith Moon‘s portrayal of the perverted Uncle Ernie, Tina Turner as the drug-pushing Acid Queen, and Paul Nicholas as the torturous Cousin Kevin (who thinks of some nice games while the grown-ups have all gone away). There’s also a great musical performance by guitarist Eric Clapton, as well as one by Elton John, who plays Tommy’s pinball rival.
I’m not going to lie to you — the film is downright trippy. There are plenty of parts that will make you say “Huh?” but what might seem strange on the surface has deeper meaning, all of which deal with not only Tommy’s childhood trauma but also with his experiences that lead to his crowning as the Pinball Wizard, as well as his subsequent “awakening.” If this movie had come out in 2009, I’d be like “WTF?,” but in the political and counter-cultural climate of 1975 this made perfect sense and still did in the 1980s when I saw first saw it as a young kid.
By the way, if you’re wondering why my parents would let their very young daughter watch a movie like this it’s because they were hippies in the 1960s and watching “mind-expanding” movies like this was part of every day life. They later on sent me to a high school that actually had a History of Rock music class that analyzed concept albums like Tommy (an easy A).
Anyhow, enjoy the movie for the next few days while it’s still online for free. And I’d love to hear what first-time viewers think of the film. Is it super-trippy? Are you wondering what the hell all those beans have to do with anything? Do you know where to put the cork?