“The Who: heads and tails”, on Arte: the many facets of a group, rock sensation that has become an institution


The joke has followed The Who – an English pronoun meaning “who” – for years. Christophe Conte’s documentary begins with a passage from a television program in 1965. The presenter laughs: ” Who is that ? » Before encountering ironic answers. Including that of drummer Keith Moon (1946-1978) whom he asked his name. The latter responds: “Keith. My friends call me Keith. You can call me John. » Follows a short excerpt from their performance of the song My Generation.

The Who, which debuted in mid-1964 as The High Numbers, has already had a hit with I can’t explain. The title My Generation, released in October 1965, an evocation of the anger of British youth, will be the founding momentum of the group’s critical and public recognition. The first step to international fame, at its peak until the mid-1970s. Still in business, led by vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist Peter (“Pete”) Townshend, the band is touring North America this fall. North.

” Our group (…), it is musical sensationalism. We do awesome things on stage and all of our fans go, “Aaahhh!” », says Townshend, composer and principal author of almost all of the repertoire. On stage, he connects ample reels on the ropes. Daltrey throws his microphone in the air and catches it, is in constant motion. On his double bass drum drums, Moon constantly plays on all the toms, pings the cymbals. Only bassist John Entwistle (1944-2002) remains almost motionless.

Relevant selection

This is the story of one of the most important bands in rock that we follow. Who assembled the rhythm’n’blues influence of his early pop days, had his psyche period, recorded concept albums: The Who Sell Out (1967) with commercial parodies, rock operas tommy (1969), which was brought to the screen by Ken Russell in 1975, and Quadrophenia (1973) about the life of a somewhat lost young man in the 1960s. A group often considered for the strength of its music, its angry approach as the herald of the hard-rock wave of the early 1970s, which was one of the rare groups of “old” that the English punks did not vomit at the end of the 1970s.

If the construction of this film is classic, with a choice of archive images, excerpts from interviews and filmed concerts, the selection of director Christophe Conte is always relevant. And rather than accumulating dozens of testimonies in a choppy montage, through a number of musical documentaries, it is only to Pete Townshend, as a “master thinker” and historian of the group, that he lets the floor speak. This gives coherence to a set that focuses on the essential, the music and the creative act.

The Who: heads and tails, by Christophe Conte (Fr., 2022, 53 min). On Arte.tv until February 28, 2023.

“The Who: heads and tails”, on Arte: the many facets of a group, rock sensation that has become an institution