Unlike The Kid’s Are Alright, the seminal 1978 Who documentary which was basically a pop art pastiche of clips and performance pieces strung together, Amazing Journey appears to have been made by sensible people. It doesn’t have the raw rock and roll energy of the first film, but what it lacks in “in-your-face” bravado it more than makes up for in biographical detail and rare footage.
Tracing the history of The Who from their humble beginnings as The Detours and The High Numbers through to their early successes as the go-to band for London’s hip young Mods, the film takes pains to explain the genesis of the band and the reasons why they became successful. There is nothing much new in the band’s overall biographical information, but what is new is the perspective of guitarist Pete Townsend and singer Roger Daltrey, the two surviving members of the original four piece combo.
The pair who once sang, “I hope I die before I get old,” are now rock’s elder statesmen, able to look back on their lives, careers and relationships with their late band mates with a kind of perspective that is often tinged with humor but underlined with a sense of melancholy. When they speak of wild man drummer Keith Moon’s death by misadventure at the age 32 there is more than nostalgia involved, but a real sense of loss that comes from years of reflection on what went wrong.
If that makes the film sound mournful, it isn’t. This was one of the best live bands in the world, bar none, and the footage in Amazing Journey, starting with a never-before-seen clip of the band, still called The High Numbers, from 1964 and culminating with a an on-stage performance from 2007 reveals a band who burned brightest when their was an audience to entertain. Of particular interest is the movie’s spotlight (more fully explored in the excellent extras) on Keith Moon’s drumming. Best known as an offstage character that drove Roll Royces into swimming pools, the movie pulls the focus back to his musicianship, reminding us that his legacy isn’t in the path of destruction he left in hotel rooms all across the world, but the amazing sounds he created with his singular drumming ability.
Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who is probably best suited for Who fans, but people who only know the band as the guys who do the theme song for CSI will find a deeper appreciation for one of rock’s truly legendary groups.