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Jeff Stein
Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend
Writing Credits:
Jeff Stein

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Stereo

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 9/30/2003

Disc One
• Commentary with Director Jeff Stein, DVD producer John Albarian, and Rock Historian Martin Lewis
• On-screen Liner Notes
Disc Two
• “Miracle Cure: Restoring the Film For DVD” Documentary
• “Getting In Tune” Audio Showdown
• “Trick of the Light” Picture Showdown
• “The Ox: An Isolated Feed of John’s Bass Feed”
• “The Who’s London: Tour of Important Who Places In London”
• “Behind Blue Eyes: Q&A With Roger Daltrey”
• “Anytime You Want Me: Multiple Camera Angles
• “Pure & Easy: A Warm Up For the Casual Fan” Quiz
• “It’s Hard: 21 Correct Answers Wins the Prize” Quiz
• “See My Way: Q&A With Jeff Stein”
• 32-Page Booklet

Search Titles:

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The Who: The Kids Are Alright (Special Edition) (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 18, 2003)

Back in 1979, The Kids Are Alright offered my first real introduction to the Who. Actually, I think I initially became aware of their existence via the 1975 film version of Tommy, and that occasion caused me to purchase a single of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard”. That was a compromise, though, since I really wanted Elton John’s version but I couldn’t find a 45 of it.

So the Who mostly stayed off my young radar until the ripe old age of 12. I didn’t actually take in Kids theatrically, but I saw a clip of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on TV and that did it. I acquired a copy of the soundtrack album for Christmas and established myself as a fan.

24 years later, Kids lives on with this new DVD release. Unlike something such as The Beatles Anthology, Kids includes very little material shot explicitly for the project. We find two new live performances for “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” plus a live-in-the-studio clip of “Who Are You” and a couple other minor bits created just for Kids. Otherwise, all the interview and performance pieces came from archival sources.

The film attempts to provide a history of the Who, but it never pretends to be definitive or truly all encompassing. Kids eschews the standard chronological format and doesn’t bother to get into clear biographies of the participants and important parties. Actually, it seems to assume some level of familiarity with the band and all involved.

Kids comes across less as a formal documentary and more as an impressionistic look at the first 15 years of the Who. That’s a risky format to feature as the movie leaps from era to era with abandon. However, it works tremendously well. Despite the seeming randomness of the placement of songs and interviews, the movie flows smoothly and connects nicely. The progression never comes across as random or incoherent. Instead, the bits meld cleanly and create a good sense of pacing and propulsion.

The movie literally starts with a bang via the Who’s TV performance of “My Generation”. This clip was an inspired choice to lead off the movie. Via host Tommy Smothers, we get a basic introduction to the band members and then see a legendarily chaotic attack on the song. Granted, it loses some points because the band lip-synched to a backing track, but it gains them back due to Keith Moon’s hilariously band faux drumming and the explosive ending. (This appearance merits historical note: the excessively loud blast to topple Moon’s drum kit apparently caused Pete Townshend’s hearing problems.)

The rest of Kids can’t quite keep up that pace, but I’m hard pressed to think of any slow moments. The interview clips seem well chosen and interesting. Without explicitly laying out the details of the band’s career, these give us a feeling for the players and their personalities. Not surprisingly, Townshend and Moon dominate. Always one of the most frank and thoughtful interview subjects, Townshend seems incapable of faking it in these situations, and he’s insightful and entertaining in these pieces. The band’s most vivid and exuberant personality, Moon appears mainly for comic relief, but given his death prior to the film’s release, these shots gain poignancy. Happily, director Jeff Stein doesn’t go maudlin on us, though. He notes in the DVD’s extras that he finished the movie prior to Moon’s death and didn’t change a frame after that, which was a good move, as it avoids the mawkish tone that otherwise might have resulted.

Though I referred to the dominance of Moon and Townshend as unsurprising, I must admit I didn’t quite expect to see so little of singer Roger Daltrey as an interview participant. I didn’t anticipate much from bassist John Entwistle, “the quiet one”, but it was a little weird not to hear many remarks from the band’s front man. Or maybe Daltrey talked more than I recall but he just didn’t make much of an impression. Without the openness and intelligence of Townshend or the broad wildness of Moon, he found it hard to create his own personality.

Kids comes packed with performance clips, many of which appear in their entirety. I usually get annoyed when movies pare down songs, but here it doesn’t bother me at all. Frankly, the flick flows so well that I barely ever noticed when a tune ended prematurely. I wouldn’t classify all the performances as mind-blowing, but Kids presents a good overview of the band’s catalog and gives us uniformly entertaining material.

Special mention must be made of the versions of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” that appear here. As I mentioned earlier, these were shot explicitly for the movie, and they’re easily the best renditions I’ve ever heard. Maybe that’s because I came to know these versions first, and maybe better takes exist somewhere; director Stein doesn’t claim they’re definitive. But I will, and they work like gangbusters here. As relentlessly overexposed and overplayed as those songs may be, they continue to maintain an absolutely undeniable power. I hate absolutes but I’ll toss this one out there: if you don’t get a charge from those two tracks, you don’t like rock ‘n’ roll.

I love those tracks so well that I’d urge you to pick up The Kids Are Alright just to get them. Happily, the rest of the movie is terrific as well, and it creates a lively and vivid portrayal of the Who. More importantly, it seems to get it right. This feels like the Who, warts and all. (Or “all and warts” – with the Who, they wore their warts as a badge.) Kids stands as an exemplary rock documentary.

Footnote: fans will be pleased to know that the DVD of Kids presents the original “director’s cut” of the movie. Some versions chopped parts of the flick; for example, a massive portion of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” got the boot. The DVD shows everything as nature intended. In addition, some video renditions sped up the audio, while the DVD restores the sound to its appropriate pace.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B (DD) B- (DTS)/ Bonus B+

The Kids Are Alright appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The aspect ratio created an unusual situation for Kids, as it offered both the original dimensions and didn’t. Huh? While Kids ran theatrically at about 1.85:1, much of the footage included was composed for 1.33:1. The film included lots of TV material and other film shot that way, which meant the results had to be cropped for Kids. Since this did indeed replicate the movie’s OAR, I won’t complain, but it did create an odd situation.

In regard to its picture and audio, Kids reminded me why it’s such a pain to assign grades for compilation films such as this. The material in Kids spanned more than a decade and came from a slew of different sources and situations. As such, even the best transfer in the world could look like death if the original footage suffered from flaws. Kids walked a middle territory. It rarely excelled visually, but it usually presented the bits in what seemed to be the best possible light. All elements varied throughout the film, so keep that in mind as I address the different areas.

For the most part, sharpness looked good. Some clips tended toward softness, but those instances seemed unavoidable due to the sources. These examples appeared acceptably infrequent, and most of the film came across with decent to good clarity and detail. No issues related to jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement.

Despite the myriad of sources, print flaws caused surprisingly few intrusions. Inevitably, some occurred, but they remained quite minor and never really intruded on the presentation. Occasional examples of grit, marks, specks and other issues popped up, but not with any frequency. Some video “rollbars” even popped up during “Road Runner/My Generation Blues”. The only modest disappointments in that regard stemmed from some vertical lines that accompanied a little Woodstock footage as well as the generally flat and grainy look of “A Quick One”. Since both were professional productions, the problems surprised me, with the latter being especially unexpected; the whole Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus show got a clean-up back in 1996 that I recalled looking better than this.

Colors varied quite a lot and could seem pretty drab. Nonetheless, they appeared about as good as possible, and at their best, they were nicely dynamic and vivid. Black levels seemed reasonably dense and deep, and most low-light shots were fairly visible, though some examples seemed pretty opaque. For instance, “Young Man Blues” was poorly filmed and almost unwatchable at times.

Not surprisingly, the footage shot expressly for Kids – primarily “Baba O’Riley”, “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – looked the best. Those bits came across without any problems in any domain. They seemed detailed and lively and were quite impressive. Of course, the filmmakers didn’t have the same level of control over the rest of the package, but they seemed to do the best with what they had. Overall, The Kids Are Alright presented a mix of unavoidable visual problems, but the results appeared satisfying.

That wide array of sources didn’t impact the audio of The Kids Are Alright quite as strongly, but those factors created some erratic sound. The DVD presented both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. In an atypical turn of events, I preferred the former. I’ll first discuss the Dolby track and they relate why I thought it seemed like the stronger of the two.

As one might expect from a concert presentation, the soundfield focused mainly on the front channels. Stereo imaging led the day, though the source material meant a moderate amount of essentially mono pieces appeared. Songs like “My Generation”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “I Can’t Explain” demonstrated some vague spread to the sides, but they stayed with their mono origins for the most part. Otherwise the stereo presentation generally seemed good. Again, this varied a fair amount, but most songs created good delineation of the various elements and provided a wide and impressive sense of the music. The surrounds mainly reinforced the forward spectrum; a few unique elements popped up, but not much.

Audio quality presented another erratic component, but the film sounded good overall. Distortion probably created the biggest distraction. More than a few of the songs suffered from some crackling and roughness. These never became unlistenable, and given the amount of time I’ve lived with these versions, I barely noticed the distortion; after 24 years, it’s become part of the music to me. Nonetheless, those flaws existed and marred the tracks to some degree.

Vocals normally appeared reasonably natural and smooth. Some edginess popped up at times, but not with much frequency. Highs mostly were clean and distinctive, and bass response was pretty tight. These remarks seem vague, but due to the broad variety of sources, I found it tough to become more specific. In general, the audio was well reproduced and captured the original material well.

As I noted earlier, I preferred the Dolby track over the DTS one. Though the pair didn’t seem radically different, I thought the DD version came across as airier and more direct. The DTS edition was a little muddy and lacked the same level of delineation. In addition, the DD track presented somewhat stronger bass response. Midrange dominated the DTS mix a little too heavily, and it lacked the same level of punch. The DTS version didn’t sound bad, but I felt the Dolby track presented the more satisfying track.

Who fans will find two flavors of The Kids Are Alright on the shelves. This two-DVD “Special Edition” presents the more in-depth package and comes packed with supplements. Only a couple of these appear on disc one, though. We open with an audio commentary from director Jeff Stein with rock historian Martin Lewis and DVD producer John Albarian. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific track. This remains almost entirely Stein’s baby. Lewis acts as facilitator and does a good job of questioning Stein; he helps elicit a lot of good details that likely wouldn’t otherwise have emerged. Albarian barely says two words throughout the piece, so don’t expect to get much from him.

That’s fine, for Stein provides a great examination of Kids. He covers why he did the film, the laborious process of locating materials, his long-time interest in the Who, interacting with the band, and many other related subjects. Stein’s continued passion for the Who comes through well and he still sounds like an unreformed and enthusiastic fan. He’s lively and entertaining, and he spices the conversation with more than a few terrific anecdotes about his time with the band plus other bits of Who history. Stein makes this a highly enjoyable and informative commentary that definitely merits a listen.

DVD One’s only other extra presents onscreen liner notes. Don’t get too excited about that prospect. I thought this would function like a trivia subtitle track, but it doesn’t. Instead, it simply provides a little information about the different clips such as location and date. All of this material also appears in the package’s booklet; the liner notes make the information more accessible but they don’t add a lot to the set.

One minor Easter egg shows up on the first disc. Highlight “The Who” on the main menu screen, and you’ll get to watch the program’s cool alteration of the FBI warning that appears when the disc starts.

On DVD Two, we find many more supplements. Miracle Cure: Restoring the Film For DVD presents a 40-minute and 36-second documentary that goes over all the work put into this new rendition of the movie. We get comments from DVD producer John Albarian, colorist Larry Yore, DRS artist Tim Gallegos, audio mixers Ted Hall and Jon Astley, editor Ed Rothkowitz, and director Stein. In addition to all the remarks, we see demonstrations of the work. The material gets somewhat dry at times and won’t interest everybody, but the show offers a pretty solid look at what it took to get Kids up to snuff.

According to text in the next section, prior home video releases of Kids sped up parts of the audio. Getting In Tune: Audio Showdown lets us compare the old mix with the new one. Via three different tracks over six minutes and 12 seconds, the audio cuts between prior and current to demonstrate the changes. It’s a fun illustration of the topic.

A similar piece accompanies the improved picture of the Kids DVD. Trick of the Light: Picture Showdown runs five minutes and two seconds as it uses a splitscreen – cut with “old” on the left and “restored” on the right – to demonstrate the improvements. Indeed, the restored image looks substantially superior, though it seems a bit like a cheat that this segment only contrasts footage shot specifically for Kids; I’d like to see if the restored archival footage appears as significantly improved.

An interesting and clever extra shows up via The Ox: An Isolated Track of John’s Bass Feed. This focuses both visual and audio solely on bass player Entwistle. Standard 2.0 and 5.1 tracks also appear for the versions of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” here, but the most fun option lets us hear just Entwistle’s contribution to those songs. Four to six different camera angles also appear, so even if you don’t care about the isolated bass, you can switch to the full song audio and check out the tunes from many vantage points. This is a great extra, though I must admit I wish they’d gone all the way and also provided isolated audio tracks for the rest of the band too.

An interactive feature called The Who’s London: Tour of Important Who Places In London shows up next. You can navigate to different spots on a graphic map or just hit “play all locations” and watch the eight minutes and 43 seconds of clips run as one full piece. If you do so, you’ll see the various places that were important in their career along with narration that explains the significance of the spots. This covers the birth of all four members through Moon’s death. It’s a dry but informative compilation.

We get the DVD’s only comments from an actual band member via Behind Blue Eyes: Q&A With Roger Daltrey. In the 25-minute and 35-second session, Daltrey chats with an interviewer about topics related to the film. We learn that Daltrey hadn’t seen the flick since he and Moon took in a screening a week prior to the latter’s death. Daltrey also reflects on various appearances like the Smothers Brothers show, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, and other parts of the movie and the Who. It’s a nicely open and interesting program that offers some good insight into the band.

Don’t expect anything new in Anytime You Want Me: Multiple Camera Angles. This simply repeats the material we already found in “The Ox”. It even includes the same three audio tracks along with the four cameras of “Baba O’Riley” and the six angles of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

A quiz shows up next via Pure & Easy: A Warm Up For the Casual Fan. This presents 21 multiple-choice questions about the band. Despite the section’s title, not all of them were easy. Some seem reasonably basic, but a lot were much tougher; I know a fair amount about the Who but I was stumped on occasion. Happily, it’s a forgiving test, so you’re not really punished for mistakes and you can try again. Double happily, you actually get a prize for successful completion: “a rare audio recording of Ringo Starr promoting The Kids Are Alright”. Triple happily, the screen reveals a special code that will let you access this feature in the future without mucking through the game. Great!

Thank God for the forgiving nature of the quizzes, for another, even tougher one comes next. It’s Hard: 21 Correct Answers Wins the Prize. As with “Pure & Easy”, this test rewards you if you finish. Here we get a 5.1 remix of the studio version of “Who Are You”.

The last element on DVD Two, See My Way: Q&A With Jeff Stein runs 29 minutes and 21 seconds. The director gives us additional insights into his work on the film. He recaps his interest in the Who and then gets into the details of the production as well as some reactions to the final product. A few remarks already appeared during the commentary, but much of the piece presents undiscussed material. Stein remains frank and entertaining in this useful program.

Finally, the package includes a solid booklet. The 32-page text opens with an essay from Who fan Brian Cady that discusses the genesis of the film. An essay from Jeff Stein comes next, as he gives us notes about the construction of the flick. The rest of the booklet details each chapter and adds good information about the origins of the various material. This is an excellent booklet that definitely enhances the set.

If I had to complain about anything related to the Kids DVD, it’d stem from the absence of any deleted scenes. As we learn repeatedly, Stein originally shot the Who at an unsuccessful concert but reconvened them for performances at Shepperton Studios that ended up in the final flick. We get nothing from the Kilburn show, and the only glimpse of the apparently lackluster initial version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” at Shepperton pops up briefly during Stein’s Q&A. I’d have loved to see these allegedly less-than-stellar performances, so it comes as a disappointment we find so little evidence of them here.

However, these gripes fall into the category of nit picking, as The Kids Are Alright does much more right than wrong. The movie remains the definitive packaging of the glory that was the Who. It presents the band in a surprisingly coherent manner that packs a real punch. The DVD offers erratic picture and sound that nonetheless seem about as good as one could expect, and the set includes a very nice roster of supplements. The Kids Are Alright clearly belongs in the collection of every rock fan.

Footnote: As I alluded earlier, two DVD versions of The Kids Are Alright hit shelves simultaneously. The single-disc edition apparently includes absolutely no supplements. Oddly, they titled this the “Deluxe Edition”. It retails for only $5 less than this “Special Edition”, so I strongly recommend that fans grab the two-DVD set. A lot of great extras appear on it, so the additional cost seems very insubstantial.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4615 Stars Number of Votes: 52
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