Top 5 Reasons To Watch "Tommy" On The Big Screen

Tommy is the greatest Rock and Roll film of all time. Unsurpassed in its psychedelic reaches, aristocratic in casting, formidable in performances, the film is a stand-alone masterpiece of Ken Russell’s canon. The extraterrestrial production design and speed-fueled cinematography throb with the intensity of rock when it served as an agent to plumb the depths of the psyche and soul. The melodrama stretches from the traumatic to the ludicrous with crushing satire and comedic camp. And the music culled from the Who’s epic album about an alienated catatonic teen’s rise to stardom is, of course, the stuff of legend. The whole film is an audio-visual overload of grandeur, but a few of its finest moments convey rarities you’re unlikely to see elsewhere or again. Here are just a few:


Tina Turner shatters the senses with her red cloaked portrayal of a drug addled hooker determined to cure Tommy of his catatonia. Her performance on the screen is emphatic and terrifying. With gnashing teeth and gyrating hips she shrieks and thrashes before the ultimate sacrifice flanked by two bleach blonde acolytes, where Tommy (Roger Daltrey) is encased in a mirrored iron maiden.


Ann-Margret (hitherto famous for her cutie pie teen roles in Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas) won an academy award nomination for her performance as Tommy’s heartbroken vixen of a mother with a lavish escapist streak. When Tommy strikes it rich as a pinball star, she drenches her inner void in a number aptly titled “Champagne” where the ads from the space-age television set commence to violently spew into the spotless white bedroom – drenching the writhing starlet in an orgy of bubbles, baked beans, and melted chocolate.


Elton John plays the role of the pinball champion usurped by the deaf, dumb, and blind anti-hero. So he gets to sing the hit single “Pinball Wizard” off the Who’s original record with Liberace-esque piano solos added to the mix, as Russell portrays it in all its theatrical glory set in a surrealistic pinball tournament. Elton’s Napoleon-complex hoists him on stilts set on a mammoth pair of Doc Martens.


The universe of Tommy occupies many realms. Surrealist renderings or World War II bombings of London scatter crowds of feathered showgirls in gas masks. The saccharine veneer of working class Holiday Camps and Christmas parties are lumbered about by a drunk and sweaty Oliver Reed. While the third act of the film catapults the protagonists into the British aristocracy. Jack Nicholson sleazes his way through the role of a high society charlatan who seems less interested in his patient than the quivering flesh of Ann-Margret.


Tommy is a film about youth, how the needs of children are unmet by the violence and narcissism of domestic life. And moreover, how the development of identity and purpose in adolescence are thwarted by a hostile society. Hollywood and organized religion are here combined as a culprit for social deterioration. Eric Clapton plays the high priest in a temple full of larger-than-life idols of Marilyn Monroe. Altar girls in Marilyn masks swing burning censures, and the faithful are administered a holy communion of pills and liquor.

Tommy screens this Sunday at 4pm at the Roxy Cinema. Derange your senses with an afternoon martini, or grab some champagne bubbles of your own, and brace yourself for a heavy trip.