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  Kids Are Alright, The One Of England's Loudest Bands
Year: 1979
Director: Jeff Stein
Stars: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Tom Smothers, Jimmy O'Neill, Russell Harty, Melvin Bragg, Ringo Starr, Mary Ann Zabresky, Michael Leckebusch, Barry Fantoni, Jeremy Paxman, Bob Pridden, Keith Richards, Steve Martin, Ken Russell
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Rock band The Who are appearing on American television, on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and are introduced by host Tom Smothers prior to their performing "My Generation". There's a jokey atmosphere and although awkward and playing up, the band are professional enough to launch into a respectable number. But that's not why this clip is remembered best, for drummer Keith Moon had loaded his drumkit with explosive and once the song was over and the band were smashing their instruments as usual, there was a deafening crash and smoke filled the studio...

Best to get the most famous T.V. appearance of The Who out of the way first, as director Jeff Stein did here, in what amounted to a scrapbook of various bits and bobs concerning one of the premier bands of their generation. There were the songs and performances, of course, but also included were interview clips and promotional films, along with specially shot interludes and some concert footage made expressly to show off the band as they were in 1978, which turned out to be the final time the four members would ever play together.

For this was in its way an elegy to Moon, who died not long after that concert was filmed, aged only 32. In typical rock star fashion, it was a drugs overdose that killed him, and you can see his decline charted here, which can make this unintentionally grim viewing should you care to dwell on him. For every sequence that has a "remember him this way" tone of him in his prime about it, there's another more recent that sees Moon plainly looking unhealthy and not entirely together: the "Barbara Ann" cover the band perform with him on vocals sounds like someone singing along with a pub jukebox.

On the other hand, when we do see the band working at full strength, mainly in clips from the sixties, the experience is genuinely thrilling, whether The Who are cranking out the hits or destroying the instruments. Stein takes a non-linear approach to his editing, so the film does not start at the beginning but instead hops around from the punchy three minute songs the group made their name with to the half-hour-long guitar solos that marked their later appearances. Nevertheless you can see how they progressed, and how Pete Townshend's writing moved on to the rock opera and concept album format.

As for the interviews, Stein has an annoying habit of letting an archive clip of an interviewer allow them to ask a long question and then having Townshend answer with one soundbite before cutting away to the next part; in one instance this is quite funny - the earnest German interviewer taking a minute for his inquiry only for Townshend to reply "Ummm... yes" - but mostly you'd be interested in a fuller response. Only one chat show clip does justice to the sense of exuberance of the band, and that's the Russell Harty one, which is sprinkled liberally throughout and is frequently hilarious thanks to Moon and Townshend's interplay. But really The Kids Are Alright is one for the fans, presuming the viewer is already familiar with the story and on that level it's a valuable record.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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