Thursday, 19 August 2010

Tommy (1975)

If we're talking 'post-war hauntology' then Ken Russell's 1975 adaptation of The Who's Tommy certainly deserves a mention, being as it is overwhelmingly concerned with the post-traumatic residue of the Second World War (the First World War in Pete Townshend's original rock opera). I first saw this film when I was about seven years old. Even though I had no experience of the subject matter, it affected me on such a fundamental level that it instantly became an immovable part of my psyche. Viewing today stirs fierce emotions and I'm still not sure why... is there some form of ancestral memory at work?

The above scene is one of the film's many stunning sequences, a relentless barrage of imagery which, in true Russell style, substitutes iconic power for subtlety. It's a fair trade; Robert Powell's appearance as the paternal revenant haunting little Tommy's internal landscape is particularly spine-tingling.


  1. Very interesting. If rock opera hauntology is today's topic, perhaps we could throw Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' and Genesis' 'Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' into the mix? The Wall also deals with post-war trauma before descending into self-indulgence. Genesis take a more fanciful, imaginative approach, but I've always found the Hipgnosis sleeve art/live slide show to have a hauntolgical edge.
    It all might be a little too Prog-tastic for some tastes, but you've got to admire the vision.

  2. I'm not at all keen on the Waters-dominated Floyd but you definitely have a point there! The Final Cut would also be appropriate, I guess. And by extension the soundtrack to Raymond Briggs's When The Wind Blows.

    I love The Lamb but in terms of hauntology I'd cite Selling England By The Pound and Wind & Wuthering as especially relevant in terms of mapping a sort of English Dreamtime. I definitely agree about Hipgnosis though... their work for 10cc is also noteworthy.

    Yes, I suppose this might all be a little too Prog-tastic for some... but they can always look away :-)

  3. Prog is still the love that dare not speak it's name, so I'll have to whisper, but it does have a crossover with the hauntological. I'd agree about Selling England, not sure about W&W. Correct me if I'm mistaken but I'm a bit skeptical about post-Gabriel Genesis.

    Early Gabriel solo albums are certainly of interest, and not just for the Hipgnosis sleeves. He was an early exponent of the Fairlight, which despite the many pop atrocities committed with it has produced a few gems. Combine it with an English Dreamtime and step forward Kate Bush.

    I'm going to stop now before I launch into some Lester Bangs-style polemic.

  4. No whispering from me - I'll shout it from the rooftops :-)

    Sure, I know the Gabriel solo stuff very well. I've actually written about his and Kate Bush's pioneering work with the Fairlight here:

  5. Glad to know we're reading from the same page :)

    That's a good review. I too would much rather hear some new material rather than the (largely unreciprocated) Scatch My Back project, and I suspect that rather than stroking his wizard's beard with Nelson Mandela and his Council of Elders (is this LOTR?!), Gabriel could make the world a happier place with a few new good tunes.

    I'm glad you managed to irritate Elbow kids too ;)