The Orrible Oo's classic video jukebox rockumentary gets a 25th anniversary makeover
It was meant to be a celebration of one of Britain’s greatest rock’n’roll bands. But by the time the official documentary history of The Who, The Kids Are Alright, was released at cinemas in May 1979, it had become a celluloid obituary to drummer Keith Moon. Just nine months earlier, and one week after recording final overdubs for the movie’s soundtrack, Moon, only 32 years old, took a fatal overdose on September 7, 1978.
Twenty-five years on, impressively sharpened, recoloured, re-edited, remastered in 5.1 stereo and with vital lost footage restored, plus an extra disc of bonus features, The Kids Are Alright is still Moon’s film. Ten minutes in and we’re watching him perform “I Can’t Explain”in August 1965. He’s a puckishly handsome 18, sticks fluttering around his head like humming birds in a flabbergasting display of rhythmic genius. Yet come the movie’s finale, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”live before a fan club audience at Shepperton Studios in May 1978, we’re witnessing a bloated caricature barely able to keep time. The contrast is as dramatic as that between the nimble athleticism of the young Cassius Clay against the punch-drunk Ali’s excruciating final bout with Larry Holmes. How did Moon The Effervescent Loon become Moon The Grotesque Balloon in just 14 years?
The Kids Are Alright doesn’t provide any answers. It merely shows us the hard evidence with captivating honesty, namely The Who’s brilliant ascendancy from 1965 to 1969 as refracted through their late-’70s nadir circa 1978’s Who Are You. A radical departure from the conventional rock-doc formats preceding it?Dylan’s Don’t Look Back, the Stones’Gimme Shelter, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same?The Kids Are Alright is an incredibly simple construct. Compiled by 22-year old first-time director Jeff Stein (a novice schooled in American commercials), it amounts to a non-chronological scrapbook of TV appearances, interviews, promos and live footage fleshed out by a small percentage of specially commissioned new material (that last ever concert with Moon at Shepperton Studios included).
Without any cohesive biographical structure, The Kids Are Alright works by simply reminding you of the power and conviction of Townshend’s music, as evinced by these astonishing archive performances. Somewhere between Moon stripping down to his Y-fronts during a 1973 Russell Harty TV interview and Townshend tossing his guitar into the crowd at Woodstock lies the essence of The Who. Even given the depressing subtext of Keith’s decay, and its gaping inconsistencies (a career overview that totally ignores Quadrophenia, for one), The Kids Are Alright more than does its subjects proud. While at times too fragmentary and too loose to truly be considered the quintessential Who document, this still trembles with the force of a Townshend power-chord cranked up to 11. The film’s more than alright, kids.