Directed By: Jeff Stein
Starring: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon
Tag line: "Seeing is believing!"
Trivia: This film was the work of Jeff Stein, an American fan who, despite having no previous experience in filmmaking, convinced the band to support the project
As I mentioned in my write-up of Tommy, The Who is one of my all-time favorite rock groups, and in the 1979 documentary The Kids Are Alright, we spend the better part of 100 minutes with Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, learning about the inner workings of the band while being treated to live performances of some of their greatest hits.
The Kids Are Alright takes us from the group’s early days in the ‘60s, when they were turning out tunes like "My Generation" (a 1967 performance of this song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, during which Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon used explosives to blow up his drum set, is the film’s opening number), right up to the ‘70s (the movie concludes, quite appropriately, with "Long Live Rock" playing over the end credits). Along the way, there are a number of interviews with the band, most of which involve lead guitarist Pete Townshend, who also penned the majority of the group’s biggest hits. I enjoyed the story he told about writing "A Quick One, While He’s Away", their 1966 tune that’s comprised of several 3-minute songs strung together to tell a specific story (Townshend mockingly refers to it as a “mini opera”). This is immediately followed by a clip from The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, during which the band performed this song. Most of the film’s funnier moments involve Keith Moon, including an interview he did with Beatles drummer Ringo Starr (Moon does his best to act sophisticated), and a comedy bit starring Steve Martin as a hotel spokesman, with Moon playing a rocker trashing one of their rooms (something the drummer had done in real-life on a number of occasions. In 1967, he supposedly blew up a toilet at a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan just before backing a car into their pool). Sadly, Keith Moon died of a drug overdose in September of 1978, some eight months before this movie’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
As for the music, many of the band’s greatest hits turn up over the course of The Kids Are Alright, including "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", from an appearance they made in 1965 on the ITV program Ready, Steady, Go!, as well as a few tunes from Tommy, which were lifted from their performance at Woodstock. With interviews, archival footage, and plenty of great music, The Kids Are Alright is the total package, and ranks alongside Woodstock, The Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter and Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back as one of the finest rock and roll documentaries ever made.