The music of The Who came from them being one of the truly unique ensembles in the history of music. If there was ever a band with a million tales to tell, it was them. The way those guys were together and constantly at odds was something that their music did not necessarily convey, until one (correctly) interpreted the outrageous volume as a telltale of bottled emotions and anger. But there was also enormous love and belief lying at the heart of it all. And that was something which just had to be told.
“The Kids Are Alright” (1979) was assembled with that objective in mind. The idea was to show what made the band so distinctive, and why it was that their fans were so loyal. The movie itself (directed by a then-young Jeff Stein, and released shortly after Keith Moon died) achieved that aim, but only in a certain sense: it captured their offstage irreverence in full flight by the inclusion of interviews and specials that were shot through the years.
However, it did fail to fully deliver in terms of performances. Of course, nobody said as much back then – when the movie was released, it featured clips such as the infamous “exploding drums” performance at the Smother Brothers’s Comedy Hour (1967), “A Quick One” at the Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus (a never-before seen performance back then), and clips from the Monterey Pop Festival. Likewise, it included four “Tommy” selections from Woodstock.
But when the “30 Years Of Maximum R & B Live” VHS was released in 1994, fans were frankly amazed at the clips that had been previously neglected – why wasn’t footage from Charlton used? Why weren’t clips from the Isle Of Wight performance included?
Such omissions are a bit hard to stomach, frankly. But as far as capturing the sass of the band and the lunacy/greatness of Keith Moon outside the recording studio went, the movie received an A+ from everybody. Leaving aside a quite pathetic pre-staged hotel demolition during his decadent years in LA, you get to see clips of him such as an interview by Ringo Starr in which the ex-Beatle asks Keith how he joined the band. They both are completely past it, and Keith’s response is witty yet heartbreaking. There are also “true” clips of debauchery recorded through the years, the “Rolls Royce In The Pond” picture is shown briefly, and near the end Keith has the chance to dress as his childhood hero Long John Silver once and for all.
It would be unthinkable not to recommend this movie to newcomers and true fans of the band. The one thing to bear in mind is that there is another video that documents their live shows better. But if you want to see where all that musical edge did come from, this is certainly the most revealing piece you can get your hands on. A classic is a classic, even if later releases highlight some deficiencies.