Rebels With a cause: Rock!
There isn’t another rock documentary in the world like The Kids Are Alright. This is no familiar biographical narrative or historical overview talking about the band’s generation, but a scrappy, vibrant musical portrait painted in the bold colors of rock itself: impassioned lyrics, power chords, crashing drums and smashing guitars.
Diehard fans of the Who argue that they were the most exciting live band in the world (or at the very least in the world of rock ’n’ roll). Director Jeff Stein dedicated himself to capturing the essence of the band through performance, onstage and off.
The Kids Are Alright features no narrator, no conventional interviews, no intimate confessions of artists reflecting back on a life of music. Stein pulls together his portrait almost exclusively from archival sources — concert footage, TV appearances, skits, talk show interviews. He slips back and forth through the band’s career from 1965 to 1978, contrasting the nerdy-looking boys energetically performing early hits on pop programs like “Ready Steady Go!” and “Shindig!” with the dangerous rockers charging up the crowds at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock and the rock legends pumping out “Baba O’Riley” in 1978 with the dynamism of veterans transformed by the power of their own music.
Between shows we see them goof with Tommy Smothers and quip with talk show host Russell Harty. Pete Townshend offers self-effacing comments (“If you stay away from quality, you’ll be all right”), John Entwistle takes a machine gun to a few gold records and Keith Moon plays the prankster in cheeky interludes with Ringo Starr and a rather disinterested dominatrix. Mere months after those segments were shot, Keith Moon died of a drug overdose at the age of 31. Stein’s tribute to Moon is appropriately playful, not a eulogy but a celebration of his life and spirit.
The entire film maintains that spirit and energy, and it explodes in the climactic concert performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” staged for the film. The exhausted band was furious for having to return to the stage for one more song and channeled their anger into rock ’n’ roll. The performance is rejuvenating: Townshend bounces and struts and finally slides across the stage like a teenager and Moon recaptures the drum punk of old in his blistering attack on the drum kit. It’s a thrilling climax to the liveliest, most dynamic portrait of a band — or any artist, for that matter — preserved on film. Rock is dead. Long live rock.
Originally published as part of the “MSN Cadillac” series.