Amazing Journey may have been authorized by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, but that hardly makes Paul Crowder and Murray Lerner’s film a puff piece. The directors have assembled a first-rate chronicle of the band’s tumultuous history, in which the guitarist and frontman both speak with great candor about a rocky professional relationship that has lasted more than 40 years. Loaded with tremendous performance footage from every phase of the band’s career, it stands next to Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan as a textbook rockumentary.
The opening hour covers the band’s first five years, which culminated in the 1969 release of Tommy. The account of the early days includes a moving tribute to the late bassist John Entwistle (whose elderly mother proves to be a terrific interview subject) and concisely explains how the band members’ musicianship (in particular the attention-span-challenged Keith Moon’s double-time drumming) distinguished the Who from the rest of the British Invasion pack. The band’s legendary internecine squabbles are exemplified by Daltrey’s self-effacing account of how he was fired for a month after the singer’s irritation with his bandmates’ use of speed caused him to have an epic tantrum. Equally unvarnished is Townshend’s description of the fallout from a bad LSD experience, which led him to the teachings of the spiritual leader Meher Baba.
The latter portion of the film quickly skims over the band’s ’70s output before slowing down to focus on how the deaths of Moon and Entwistle affected Townshend and Daltrey. Their testimony makes the band’s 2006–07 tour seem like less of a cash grab, and turns Amazing Journey into a sharp primer on how to age gracefully in an industry that favors the young.