Friday, July 23, 2010
Johnny The Wild One and Jimmy of Quadrophenia
Laslo Benedek’s The Wild One (1953) and Franc Rodam’s Quadrophenia (1979) depict two very different characters who represent opposite youth subcultures from the 50s and 60s. Where one is a leader of a motorcycle gang who wears leather attire, the other is a parka wearing modernist who rides an Italian scooter. Both films present teens with similar afflictions to the society that surrounds them, yet both are also different in the way they express those issues.
Benedek’s protagonist is viewed in an etic manner, which presents his teen as a mumbling irrational non-conformist. Marlon Brando’s Johnny is an individual so guarded that he is incapable of letting any other character (or viewer) into his emotional state. Brando’s characterization of Johnny as rebellious and closed off is a means of exhibiting the youth of the day with all their complexities. Though the director chooses to sympathize with the town’s folk and their fears and bewilderment of the youth. The director is trying to articulate a subculture, which the protagonist is unable to do. The character Johnny doesn’t waiver or back down from his belief or desire’s; his refusal to deal with police sheriff, back down from a fight with Lee Marvin, or expressing his sexual desire for Mary Murphy (the sheriff’s daughter). Yet the audience is given little insight as to why. Johnny does mention when being punched by a local, that his father hit him harder, though that is about as much insight as we are going to get. Benedek creates a mysterious rebel that is at times cool and vulnerable, but emotionally vacant.
Rodam’s protagonist is viewed in an emic fashion, with his character being conveyed as an emotional open book. Phil Daniel’s Jimmy is filled with much confliction and it is mentioned that he has four personalities (each represented by the four members of the band The Who). As unpredictable as Jimmy may be, we are never unaware as to why. If Jimmy has problems with his friends, it is due to his over expressing his emotional state. Jimmy is at times charming, sarcastic, confident, insecure, suicidal, violent, sexual, crazy and yet emotionally unguarded. Rodam isn’t just documenting a youth culture with cinematic detachment; the director is trying to understand the confusion of this youth culture and their need to belong to it. If any character in Quadrophenia is closest to Marlon Brando’s Johnny, it would probably be Sting as Ace Face. Both characters are the detached leaders of their gang and both have the same contempt for the law.
Despite their differences, Johnny and Jimmy share some similarities. Both characters belong to a two-wheeled gang (motorcycle and scooter) and seem to feel most alive when roaming in their pack. Johnny and Jimmy come from a problematic home life with their family. The chosen subculture defines their personality and sets them apart from the unsatisfactory world they inhabit.