In many high school English classes Julius Caesar is taking a back seat to “that deaf, dumb, and blind kid,” Tommy the pinball wizard, the new messiah.
Peter Townshend created the rock opera Tommy and the British rock group The Who performed it on a recording released in 1969. Now Tommy, in a slightly different version, has become a film, written and directed by Ken Russell (Women in Love, The Devils) and produced by Robert Stigwood. Columbia Pictures is the distributor.
No grand opera ever had a plot so fragmented or a hero so weak. One wonders what English teachers find solid enough to discuss. Mother (Ann-Margret) bears son, Tommy (Roger Daltrey of The Who); the boy’s father is missing in action and believed dead. About seven years later, the mother decides to remarry and beds Bernie (Oliver Reed), a camp director. Tommy’s father returns to find his wife and Bernie in bed, and Bernie kills him, all of which Tommy sees. The shock causes the boy to become deaf, dumb, and blind. As a teen-ager he becomes the pinball champion, famous and rich. After regaining his sight, speech, and hearing, Tommy creates a new religion with himself as messiah and a pinball machine as altar. But fame flies, his followers rebel, and Tommy escapes to a mountain top. End of film.
Russell fills out the skeleton of a plot with sick scenes of sadism and degeneracy. The acid queen scene (soul singer Tina Turner realistically portrays an acid freak) symbolizes the first three-quarters of the film. As Tommy trips out he changes from a copy of his father to a skeleton crawling with snakes.
Not only does Russell crowd the film with lurid visual effects, such as the acid scene, but he stuffs it to overflowing with religious, and specifically ...1
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