The Kids Are Alright
The Kids Are Alright is a rockumentary film about the English rock band The Who, including live performances, promotional films and interviews from 1964 to 1978.
The Kids Are Alright film was primarily the work of American fan Jeff Stein who, despite having no previous experience in moviemaking, convinced the band to support the project and served as the film’s director. Stein had produced a book of photographs from the band’s 1970 tour when he was just 17. In 1975, he approached Pete Townshend, The Who’s principal composer and lead guitartist, about compiling a collection of film clips to provide a historical reference for the band’s fans. Townshend initially rejected the idea, but was persuaded by the group’s manager, Bill Curbishley, to give their cooperation.
When Stein and his film editor, Ed Rothkowitz, soon previewed a 17-minute compilation of clips from their US television appearances to the band and their wives, they could hardly believe the reaction. “Townshend was on the floor, banging his head. He and Moon were hysterical. Daltrey’s wife was laughing so hard she knocked over the coffee table in the screening room. Their reaction was unbelievable. They loved it. That’s when they were really convinced that the movie was worth doing.”
Stein knew that many of the band’s best performances and most memorable moments had either never been recorded or been lost, erased or discarded. For more than two years, he collected movie, television and fan film footage in England, the US, Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, Norway and Finland, in some cases actually rescuing footage from the trash. Nevertheless, there were gaps in the depiction of the band’s catalog and persona that required the shooting of new material. This began on 20 July 1977 at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex, England with the playing of the song “Barbara Ann” at Stein’s request. The The Kids Are Alright film crew then spent five days chronicling the daily life of drummer Keith Moon at his Malibu, California home, including his 31st birthday party. Finally, Stein attempted on several occasions to record performances of songs that were not covered by the archival footage, particularly “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The final recordings were made on 25 May 1978, but unfortunately, most of the original reels of this show were lost. A version of “My Wife” was recorded at the Gaumont State in Kilburn in December 1977, and, although not included in the film, it appeared on the soundtrack album.
The The Kids Are Alright sound editing was supervised by bassist John Entwistle and, with the exception of a 1965 performance of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” where Entwistle had to replace a missing bass track, most of the sound was authentic. Entwistle did fight for – and won – getting he and Pete to overdub their backing vocals on the Woodstock footage because Entwistle deemed the original gig’s backup vocals “dire.” During the process of sound editing, on 7 September 1978, Keith Moon died. All of the band members except Townshend had seen a rough cut of the film just a week before and, after Moon’s death, they were determined not to change anything.
The Kids Are Alright film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 13 May 1979. The Who promoted the release of the film with some live performances with their new drummer Kenney Jones.
The Kids Are Alright premiered in the US on 15 June 1979 in the middle of the disaster film era that featured films like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. In this environment, the original press kit for The Kids Are Alright drew on the band’s destructive reputation and called it “the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll disaster movie.”
With the collection of material he included, Stein attempted to create not a linear, chronological documentary, but “a celluloid rock ‘n’ roll revival meeting” and “a hair-raising rollercoaster ride” that was worthy of the band’s reputation. The performances which comprise the body of the film are organized around a number of playful encounters by the band members with various variety and talk show hosts, Pete Townshend’s playful relationship with his fans, admirers and critics, and the endless antics of Keith Moon.
The Kids Are Alright film begins with a bang — literally — at the band’s only US variety show appearance. On 15 September 1967, The Who appeared on the CBS show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in Los Angeles following the end of their first US tour. They lip-synched the songs “I Can See For Miles” and “My Generation” and flustered host Tommy Smothers by refusing to follow the script as he tried to converse with them before “My Generation”. Moon made the biggest impact, however, when the destructive nature of his on-stage persona reached its highest level. After The Who’s performance of “My Generation”, they began smashing their instruments. Moon packed explosive charge in his bass drum which set Townshend’s hair on fire and rendered him temporarily deaf for 20 minutes, while cymbal shrapnel left a gash in Moon’s arm. Townshend then took the acoustic guitar Smothers was holding and smashed it to bits on the ground. Smothers was completely frustrated, but the audience thought the whole performance was staged. Clips of a 1973 interview from London Weekend Television’s Russell Harty Plus appear six times throughout the film. While Harty delves into the background of the members’ lives, Moon again steals the show as he rips off Townshend’s shirt sleeve and then promptly strips down to his underwear.
One of the TV interviews included in the The Kids Are Alright film features Ken Russell, the director of the film Tommy, who makes his mark with his exaggeratedly passionate plea: “I think that Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its decadent ambient state better than Wilson or all of those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!”
An early performance from ABC television’s Shindig! and one of only two surviving tapes from the group’s many appearances on the British program Ready Steady Go!, both recorded in 1965, are included along with numerous interview clips from BBC Radio, Radio Bremen of Hamburg. Segments filmed in each of the band member’s homes include several conversations between Moon and fellow drummer Ringo Starr.
Performances from three of the band’s largest concert appearances bear witness to the band’s progression from the British mod scene to global superstardom: Their reluctant gig at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on 17 August 1969 was not an artistic success in the eyes of the band, but it helped Tommy become a critical blockbuster; The four clips that appear in the film, besides being a completely new cut of the Woodstock performance, without the “split-screen”, include three tracks from Tommy and My Generation, topped off by Townshend throwing his guitar into the crowd; The group’s 1975 US tour reached its peak before a crowd of 75,962 at the Pontiac Silverdome on 6 December. The images in the film were broadcast to large screens in the stadium so those in the far reaches could actually see the band members on stage.
While it appears near the end of The Kids Are Alright film, the band’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival on 18 June 1967 brought about their first big media exposure in the United States. In The Kids Are Alright film, The Who’s Monterey Pop appearance cuts away to footage from past concerts depicting the band destroying their equipment before returning to the destructive end of “My Generation”.
The Kids Are Alright film incidentally became a sort of “time capsule” for the band, after Keith Moon died only one week after he’d seen the rough cut of the film with Roger Daltrey. After Moonie’s death, the rough cut didn’t suffer a single change, since neither Jeff Stein nor the rest of the band wanted to turn the movie into an homage to remember Moon’s passing, but to celebrate his life and career with The Who.