The first time I saw "Tommy" was during its original theatrical release in 1975. I was eleven years old. Now, I was certainly mature enough for my parents to decide to allow me to see the film, but still... I was eleven. And I must tell you, this film changed my life. Or rather I should say that it reinforced all the things that already existed inside myself, all the things that I suspected about the world and the nature of creativity. "Tommy" entered my consciousness at a perfect time and was a highly influential film on my development as a human, an actor, a writer, an artist, and believe it or not, as an interior designer. Ken Russell's vision showed me what was possible, what could be dreamed of, what could be created, and what could be stated out loud in this reality.
Based on the brilliant rock opera by Pete Townshend of The Who, Russell took a soundtrack and whipped up a frenzy of visuals to accompany it. The story, with its parallels to the story of Christ, follows a young man named Tommy. Born on V Day to a single mother whose husband was killed in World War II, Tommy grows up with a step-father, Frank. But one night, after accidentally witnessing Frank kill his biological father who has returned, clearly not dead, Tommy is told by his mother and step-father "you didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no-one, never tell a soul." His brain follows these orders literally and little Tommy becomes, psychosomatically, deaf, mute, and blind. His parents try various way to "cure" him, some methods more traditional like doctors, and some methods that are very non-traditional. He is eventually cured and becomes a Messiah-like figure, but like most Messiahs, his followers become eager to knock him off the pedestal they have placed him on.
Ken Russell's mind was (he died in 2011) a stunningly fertile place. He dreamt up the Church of Marilyn Monroe where Eric Clapton presides as High Priest, the Acid Queen played with astounding mania by Tina Turner, and The Pinball Wizard's enormous platform Doc Marten boots worn by Elton John in the film. Ann-Margret is miraculous as Tommy's mother Nora (she was nominated for an Oscar for this role), Russell favorite Oliver Reed is creepy-oily as Tommy's step-father Frank, Jack Nicholson shows up as a medical specialist, and lithe and gorgeous Roger Daltrey (one of the greatest voices in rock history) plays the title character while the rest of the members of The Who play themselves.
When I was young, I responded most to the first three-quarters of the film, the more spectacular, splashy parts. And now with some age, I appreciate the last quarter just as much. It is more inward and requires some knowledge and wisdom to see the inevitability of the arc of the tale.
Recommend? It is very hard for me to encapsulate what this film means to me since it was such a cornerstone of my mind and soul. So yes, I recommend its mind-boggling barage of dizzying visuals and classic rock and roll with an edge.