The Kids Are Alright (1979)

Director: Jeff Stein

So this month at the ICheckMovies forum, it’s the documentary challenge. In that spirit, I give you one of my favourite documentaries. I’ve watched this many times, usually at kind of stupid volume (I mean, it’s hard to listen to this stuff quietly), but I’ve never worked out its secret. Cos, really, it shouldn’t work; in a lot of ways Kids is—or mostly looks like—a somewhat random conglomeration of Who footage from various sources that leaps about back and forth through time with little if any discernible sense of connection from one bit to the next, and nothing to actually identify any of the footage on screen (this is one area where the DVD’s subtitles are useful). There are certain things running through the film, giving it a kind of structural backbone, I suppose—the two Shepperton performances bookending it, the bizarre Russell Harty interview, Pete with Melvyn Bragg on the BBC, blotto Keith with blotto Ringo Starr—but otherwise it’s kind of a grab-bag: promotional films, TV performances (most notably “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the Rolling Stones’ Rock’n’Roll Circus, which at that time still hadn’t been shown anywhere), interviews from various sources, live footage, and whatever else was out there (it was, understandably, a technical nightmare for director Jeff Stein to assemble this varying mess of 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, PAL video, NTSC video, b/w and colour footage). There’s no chronological story being told, you don’t really get precise details of the band’s history; this is not Amazing Journey, the more recent and far more conventional story of the band, which is also very good but it’s not this film, is it. Kids shouldn’t work, in much the same way as the band itself shouldn’t have worked. And yet somehow both of them did; four disparate and jarring personalities somehow made this prodigious racket come together, and the disparate, jarring visuals do the same. It’s the sort of thing fans of the band will get the most from, but I think anyone watching, fan or not, would have to come away with the feeling that The Who were fearsomely good—instrumentally and vocally—at their best; the Woodstock performance of “See Me Feel Me” is a truly astonishing moment. And Stein knew exactly how to begin and end his film; the TV pyrotechnics of “My Generation” and the film studio laser jollies of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” really are the only things he could’ve used at those points, with that slow-motion shot of Townshend sliding towards the camera on his knees kind of defining rock’n’roll itself. Still buggered if I can work out how/why The Kids Are Alright works, but I’m kind of satisfied for it to just exist…

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