What better to drown out the mariachi music blaring out of the cars outside next door than to throw on a rock opera like Tommy? And who better to make a film about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who plays a mean pinball and becomes a religious icon than Ken Russell, doyen of the sacrilegious. It's not The Devils, nor even The Lair of the White Worm, but it does have plenty of controversial moments. It's also told entirely musically, with no speech at all, just like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Tommy's father is an Air Force pilot who's shot down during the last days of the war, or so we think, making what would be a very short role for Robert Powell if he didn't continue to reappear in hallucinatory dream sequences. His mother Nora, played by Ann-Margret, takes a few years but then remarries Oliver Reed, a holiday camp worker called Frank. Unfortunately a traumatic experience involving a vision of his scarred father bursting into his mother's bedroom leaves him psychosomatically unable to see, hear or speak. He thus misses out on plenty going on around him, such as a bizarre Marilyn Monroe healing cult led by Eric Clapton or Acid Queen Tina Turner turning into a hypodermic laden robot hooker. Unfortunately he doesn't miss out on lunatic Keith Moon playing lunatic Uncle Ernie fiddling about with him though he'll have missed the cartoon sound effects.
By this time, of course, he's grown up to look astoundingly like Roger Daltrey, who is only three years younger than mama Ann-Margret. He follows himself to a scrap yard where he discovers an affinity for pinball on a table that's somehow plugged in and perfectly horizontal even though it's balanced on top of a scrap car. Once the police locate his parents, good old Frank makes a celebrity out of him and he gets to play pinball on stage while Elton John sings about him in trademark huge glasses.
Last time I saw this film I was a young lad who dug the Who and who didn't have a clue what it was all about. Now I get it, though it is a particularly wild trip of a rock video rather than a movie proper. Ken Russell does have fun with this trip and how could we help but enjoy Ann-Margret writhing around in foam and baked beans, straddling a phallic pillow and spinning around in a chair stolen from The Prisoner? Jack Nicholson sounds bizarre with an English accent but Ollie Reed looks perfect in a grey top hat and monocle. Priceless.