Cinema Collectibles #8: Mod Magnets

mod magnets

by Greg Carlson

Note: this column contains minor spoilers for Quadrophenia. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you stop reading and go rent the movie, preferably the Criterion Collection DVD.

Millions of dollars have been made from official movie merchandise, and many collectors elbow, claw, and place large bids to get their hands on first edition or discontinued memorabilia, only to put said items in a glass case or plastic sealant. There are other breeds of cinephiles, however, who are content with unofficial movie-related products—objects or figurines that bear just enough of a resemblance that they can be associated with a favorite film. I’m not talking about bootleg memorabilia—as one can imagine, the knockoff Star Wars and superhero action figures have grown so much in stature that they themselves have become sought-after collectors’ items. I’m talking more about the movie mementos that come about in a do-it-yourself manner—creating your own memorabilia from found items that have enough of a visual association to a movie character, crucial-to-the-plot prop, or memorable scene—and christening it as the real thing. It’s practical and cost-effective to purchase a $4 red beanie, add the traffic light logo via permanent markers and call the result your Team Zissou cap, or to find a ragged Pendleton cardigan at the thrift store and call it your Jeff Lebowski sweater. If you’re a Jurassic Park fan and are strapped for cash, just check the toy store aisles for cheap Tyrannosaurus Rex figurines and pick up a can of Barbasol at the supermarket – you’re now on your way to creating a personalized and inexpensive shrine to Spielberg’s 1993 film.

My prized “almost official” movie memorabilia in my collection is a Mod Magnet set, which I acquired many years ago from the legendary Seattle novelty shop Archie McPhee. Although not officially licensed by The Who organization, I’ve come to refer to the set as my Quadrophenia magnets. In particular, the magnet of the sullen-looking boy in the military parka bears enough of a resemblance to Jimmy, the lead character from the 1979 film adaptation of The Who’s second-most famous concept album.

It took John Entwistle’s death and the release of yet another greatest-hits compilation, albeit one featuring more deep cuts and forgotten singles, for me to dive deep into The Who’s discography, and Quadrophenia the film struck a chord after catching a revival screening of it in 2003. Thirteen years and several viewings later, Quadrophenia has become to me, in the words of Quentin Tarantino, a “hang out movie,” a film you watch so you can check in with the characters. This seems like an odd choice, seeing as my teenage years are way behind me, and, classic R&B music aside, I never indulged in the Mod’s rebellion and vices. However, if you look closely, the themes of teen angst, confusion, and loyalty can still resonate with viewers, regardless of age, demographic, or class status. I like to spend time with Jimmy, Chalky, Kevin the Rocker, Ferdy, Ace Face, and the others because we’ve all had that feeling that the right clothes, music, and like-minded tribe of friends will make you feel validated. Additionally, we’ve all experienced that reality check where your “unique” group starts to feel routine, your friends aren’t always looking after you, and how at the end of the extended holiday weekend, even the coolest Face on the block has to go back to their job as a hotel bellboy. As Jimmy tersely exclaims at the end of the movie, it’s ultimately all about your own identity.

Another reason I come back to this film is the use of classic soul/R&B songs, popular hits of the day, and British Invasion tunes that paint a vibrant picture of Mod life in dull working-class Britain circa 1964, interspersed with songs from the Quadrophenia album, which clue the viewer in on Jimmy’s mindset as the film progresses—think of The Who chiming in as a Greek Chorus during key scenes. If there’s a minor snag that disrupts the film’s portrait of the U.K.’s pre-hippie youth movement, it’s during the riot scene in Brighton, where it appears that the characters have time-travelled to the late ‘70s (credit card signs in the shop windows, longhaired and bearded Rockers, Sting-as-Ace Face’s new wave hairdo.)

While I’m not planning to purchase a vintage Lambretta scooter and refer to it as the newest edition to my Quadrophenia collection, the Mod Magnet set will always be stuck to my fridge door to remind me of that little music-oriented cult film that takes me to my sharp-dressed British friends and their exhilarating (if short-lived) subculture for a couple of hours, a swinging and introspective break from the tedium of “square” adult life.

About Greg Carlson: I’m a huge movie fan who frequents Scarecrow Video on a regular basis. My top three films are (in random order): “Time Bandits”, “Repo Man”, and “Taxi Driver.” In my spare time, I like to hunt for vinyl records and kitschy items old-school-style, via thrift stores and estate sales – eBay and Craigslist are not part of the strategery.

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