When Russell did the Who's Tommy he suddenly had a major
commercial success on his hands. Disappointingly is was followed up by a cash-in
movie, and box-office failure of Valentino removed his commercial tag.
||Pete Townsend's rock opera, with some of the
scenes shifted to makes some sense of the plot.
The story concerns a child who witnesses his
father being murdered by his mother and lover. His mother (who works in
a ball-bearing factory) tells him not to tell what he saw or heard, so
he becomes deaf, dumb and blind. He does have one gift, he can play
pinball. The pinballs are identical to the ball-bearings from his
mother's factory, and to the device later put in his eyes at the
instigation of the doctor, Jack Nicholson. Tommy becomes a messiah
figure to his followers until they realise they also have to become
deaf, dumb and blind.
The film is based around an LP. It was becoming
fashionable to produce theme LPs and Pete Townsend surpassed most by
coming up with a story line (even if it at times does not fit). The
story is inspired by the blues song Eyesight for the Blind by Sonny Boy
Williamson, with the most famous song Pinball Wizard added to ensure
there was a hit single.
The film is a series of visual images.
|In the church Marilyn Monroe replaces
the Virgin Mary. Under her statue blondes in Monroe masks
give the sacrament of whisky and pills.
But she turns out to be a fallen idol.
|Tommy rejects this religion, and Tina
Turner's attempt to awaken his senses with sex and drugs also
fails. "If your child ain't all he should be now, this girl will
put him right. I'll show him what he could be now, just give me
one more night".
Tommy emerges and becomes the new messiah with
a mass following.
His parents exploit this.
The scene is based on the Who's LP "The Who Sell Out" where
Daltry appears eating Heinz Beans etc to attack commercialism. Russell
himself did advertisements for baked beans and soap suds (in his advert,
to show how the soap suds simply disappeared down the sink he filmed the
suds being pumped into the sink then reversed the film).
||During the film there were a number of accidents.
Ann-Margret cut herself while filming the soapsuds episode (turning
the suds red). Ann-Margret says "my hand went to the TV screen and
the cut glass sliced into it. Dripping with blood I was quickly
wrapped in a blanket and carried off the set, and then rushed to the
hospital, where doctors took twenty-seven stitches to close the wound...
[then] I shot a scene with my arm hidden under a table".
Daltry underwater almost drowned before the crew realised he was in
trouble and dived in to help him. Daltry burnt himself when
running through the fire and the later takes show him holding his
||Most spectacularly when filming on Southsea pier a
fire broke out seriously damaging the pier. Ken used film
of the real fire in part of Daltry´s running through fire
||The Who obviously appear. Roger Daltry is Tommy
and fortunately he does not speak for most of the film. Apart from
Daltry, Keith Moon is the only acting Who member, relishing his role as
the child molesting Uncle Ernie.
Other rock stars
such as Elton John (Pinball Wizard) and Tina Turner (the Acid Queen) are
spectacular in their video segments. Elton John was a possibility for a
role in Ken Russell's Rainbow before he chickened out.
||Eric Clapton (left) was too drugged out so Arthur
Brown was brought in to make the scene more interesting.
Oliver Reed appears as the Father, Ann-Margret as the mother (she
was nominated for an Oscar for the role). Jack Nicholson is the
doctor. Ken Russell's daughter (right) plays Sally.
Editing is by Stuart Baird. Cinematography is by Dick Bush
and Ronnie Taylor. Costumes are by Shirley Russell. Ken used in
total a crew of 88. Tommy cost $2 million and took 22 weeks to shoot.
Russell can be seen in a wheelchair in one scene.
The church worshipping Marilyn Monroe with the row of Marilyns walking
down the church aisle.
Dancers in gas masks in the London blitz sequences. The war
sequences were originally going to be black and white.
Running through the fields.
||Elton John's pinball wizard
Tina Turner's Acid Queen. Tiny Tim was the original
choice for the part.
||Tommy has a lot of references including to
Ken's BBC days (the waterfall sequences) as well as to Mahler (Robert
Powell and the rocks). The train scene is similar to Fenby´s arrival in
Delius, and the blind and paralysed Delius is a proto-Tommy. The mirrors
with the young child could be from Bartok, the corridors remind you of
the convent in The Devils.
There are snakes crawling on a skeleton.
Daltry appears in a number of Christ images including
crucifixion, walking on water, and walking on the beach with the
fishermen (I will make you fishers of men).
He descends on Hells Angels from the air (a heavens angel), here
reflected in the glasses.
||The "cure" imagery is similar to that in Kubrick´s A
Other films released in the same year include Star Wars, Annie
Hall and The Spy Who Loved Me as well as Russell's Lisztomania.