WFTB Score: 14/20
The plot: Documentary charting the history of The Who, the loudest, nastiest group in the history of rock and roll.
Although some knowledge of the music and history of the ’orrible ’Oo is helpful to an appreciation of Jeff Stein’s patchwork documentary, it’s by no means a pre-requisite so long as you enjoy mayhem and loud rock. From the end of the first raucous rendition of My Generation, which sees Pete Townshend’s hair smoking and Keith Moon wincing from an explosives-powered cymbal slicing into his arm, The Kids Are Alright depicts The Who as raw, untrammelled power, more than making up in energy what they lack in finesse and good looks.
The film intersperses performances of some of The Who’s best known songs with interviews, choosing not to tell the story in linear fashion but flitting between old and new footage. There are a few specially recorded interviews, plus performances of Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again that were specially filmed; but the older material is most entertaining, whether the zany promotional films in which Keith Moon stars, or the earnest TV discussion shows of the 60s where Pete displays his eloquent contempt for, amongst other things, the Beatles’ musicality. The film’s focus falls on Townshend, the intellectual, guitar-smashing writer, and Moon, the joker supreme who died tragically young; John Entwistle does get to shoot gold discs, whilst Roger Daltrey mostly lets his singing tell its own story.
As for the songs, the earlier recordings are alive with vitality, and even though Townshend gives a damning verdict on Woodstock – “I ’ated it!” – excerpts taken from the festival are enthralling. The centrepiece of the film, though, is a version of A Quick One While He’s Away taken from the Rolling Stones’ abortive Rock’n’Roll Circus. Only the last segment of this appears on most versions of the film, so it is worth seeking out the Special Edition DVD which contains the whole electrifying performance, which was so good that it sent the Stones away from the circus right back to the drawing board.
Stein distributes songs and speech well throughout The Kids Are Alright, and although it is not a thorough biography – you’ll be disappointed if you are expecting Anthology-like interviews and insight – it’s an energetic rattle through the band’s back catalogue and a quick glimpse of the band’s riotous sense of humour. Some of the later passages (the recording of Barbra-Ann, for example) show Moon and the rest of the band at far from their best, but if you call yourself a rock fan you are likely to like this film. If you are a fan of The Who, it’s required viewing: funny, raw, and in light of the fact that the performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again was Keith’s last with the band, surprisingly poignant.