(1975, Written and Directed by Ken Russell, based on the album Tommy by The Who)
The tagline for Tommy was, “Your senses will never be the same again,” and it was entirely fitting for two reasons. First, it was true to the storyline both of the original Who album and the film that Ken Russell created from it, which told the tale of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who initially becomes a wizard pinball player and ultimately a pop star and quasi-messianic figure. Secondly, it was true to the staggeringly dense and loaded cinematic world that Russell would create in the film.
Tommy, of course, was The Who’s original “rock opera” and as with most operas its plot is at best slight, at worst utterly ridiculous. However, the epic music, including classic tracks such as “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me,” more than makes up for any narrative deficiencies, and the same is true of the imagery in the film it inspired. Some of it is daft, even self-indulgent, but much of the rest is genuinely powerful, even overwhelming, from Keith Moon’s genuinely rancid turn as Tommy’s abuser, Uncle Ernie, to the super-saturation of sound and vision in sequences such as Tommy’s visit to a prostitute, played and sung by Tina Turner as The Acid Queen.
The Who’s legacy largely rests on their two great “operatic” albums, Tommy and Quadrophenia, and the films they inspired. There is certainly a case for the inclusion of the film of Quadrophenia in this list; in many ways, it is a better, if simpler, film. However, for its sheer musical and visual chutzpah, Tommy just edges it, as the definitive document of the sonic and stylistic excesses of 70s rock.