The structure of the 1979 Who documentary The Kids Are Alright is so perfectly useful that it's amazing more rock filmmakers haven't adopted it. Director Jeff Stein eschewed padded setups in favor of loosely assembled archival footage of Who performances and interviews from TV appearances and rock festivals, interspersed with new live material and a few off-the-cuff conversations. In the pre-MTV era, such ephemera was hard to find, and even if Stein only conceived The Kids Are Alright as cheap product for the midnight-movie market, he performed a valuable service for every teen rock fan too poor or too remotely located to attend arena shows, and too young to recall The Who on Shindig! or The Smothers Brothers Show. Even now, The Kids Are Alright works as a time-capsule compendium of great live performances, and even now, Stein's clearinghouse approach is too rare. (The tide may be turning, though, judging by recent fan-friendly double-disc DVD compilations of David Bowie, The Jam, and Led Zeppelin.) The long-awaited DVD of The Kids Are Alright sticks close to the original film, and doesn't offer many extended excerpts or unused performances. Most of the two-disc set's supplementary material is dedicated to detailing what went into the restoration–from a philosophical standpoint as well as a technical one–and it's surprisingly fascinating stuff, if more for movie geeks than Who fans. The Who-related and making-of-Kids-related material on the second disc mostly restates facts already in the liner notes or in Stein's audio commentary. Still, the director remains an entertaining personality, with his '70s-burnout accent and his excited anecdotes about how working with the notoriously irascible Pete Townshend left him feeling "like the monument on the cover of Who's Next." Because of their heavy British-ness and because of Townshend's conceptual and theatrical inclinations, The Who has a different sort of fan base than most classic rock acts, and Stein catered to the group's audience, showing the band in all its different incarnations while avoiding flat chronology. There's a little Who history in the old interview footage (some of which was later spoofed in This Is Spinal Tap), but otherwise, The Kids Are Alright derives its meaning from pictures of the musicians in full flight: Roger Daltrey swinging his microphone, Townshend windmilling, and John Entwistle standing stock-still. Stein understood that watching Keith Moon pound his way through "I Can't Explain" is explanation enough.
More from The A.V. Club