“That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”
Tommy, the subject of The Who’s seminal rock opera and movie of the same name, is a boy who, due to emotional trauma, has the unfortunate luck of being deaf, dumb and blind. The film starts with Tommy’s birth and proceeds to tell the story of his everyday life and struggle and eventual rise to fame as a “pinball wizard” and religious cult leader.
Tommy is one of those films in the same vein as campy cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch; bazar and wonderful musicals that seem to take place in an entirely different, not to mention fabulous, universe. Tommy is a film that completely hypnotizes you and takes you on a journey, that, when the movie ends, seems to have been just a dream that has left you in utter and complete awe.
Roger Daltrey, who’s piercing blue eyes and gorgeous curly hair could kill, does a perfect job as Tommy. His angelic features give the allusion of an exceptionally sweet and kind person which makes the scenes where he’s deaf, dumb and blind, just staring off into space, all the more sad. Tommy is also a testament to Daltrey’s great talent as not only a musician but as an actor. He was awarded the Golden Globe for best acting debut in 1976 for his performance as Tommy.
Oliver Reed plays Tommy’s “uncle” and creates a detestable character and Ann-Margret, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Tommy’s mother, delivers a strong and very dramatic performance. Other notable talent in Tommy includes Elton John, Jack Nicholson and Tina Turner.
While the whole movie is a bit weird, there are several scenes that stick out as being completely over the top. One sequence, during the song “Eyesight to the Bind” depicts a group of blind people worshiping Marylin Monroe who they believe will cure them. The “Pinball Wizard” scene appears to be plucked right from a dream with it’s bright colors and sensory overload. There is also a scene where Tommy’s mother, clad completely in white in a stark white bedroom, withers around in baked beans that shoot forth from the TV. Yes, Tommy gets quite strange at parts, but in a really awesome way.
The story is told entirely through song and since all of it is written by The Who (specifically Pete Townshend), of course it’s amazing. The Tommy film soundtrack does vary a little from the original Who album but all of Tommy’s incredible story is still there. In the film, the songs are sung by the characters, not The Who, but every band member makes an appearance at one point. The music of Tommy has a mystical, magical aura about it that seems to lift and transport you to a zany new world.
The sets and production design create a Disneyland-ish fantasy feeling for the film. The special effects are what would be expected from the 70’s but this adds a retro cool factor that keeps the film alive decades after it’s release. The cinematography is good, especially the last shot that shows Tommy on a mountain, silhouetted in front of a blazing sun; a glorious ending to the film.
Maybe it’s because The Who is one of my very favorite bands of all time or maybe it’s because I just have a thing for weird movies but Tommy now has a spot of my list of favorite movies of all time. Tommy is a fantastic visual for The Who’s fantastic album and creates a new appreciation for the album and the curious story of a boy named Tommy.