Contemporary clips with rock journalists like Rolling Stone magazine’s Jann Wenner and Anthony DeCurtis help add some retrospective context to the album. We also see additional archival footage of people who were directly involved in its creation, such as the late Who manager and producer Kit Lambert. Performance clips help flesh out the story, which deals with The Who’s transition from a primarily singles-oriented band to one that was album-oriented. There’s still palpable frustration in Townshend’s voice as he discusses what he considers the subpar performance of the single “I Can See for Miles” (though it was a top ten hit, the band’s only one in the U.S., it didn’t hit number one). Going back a little further, the roots of Tommy are traced to the 1966 mini-opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” Vintage performance clips are interwoven with the interviews.
The most interesting aspect of Sensation is the amount of introspective, personal revelation Townshend offers about the nature of Tommy’s child abuse-themed lyrics. The depth of his vision is clear, even if some of Tommy’s plot points weren’t as well laid out as they could’ve been. Still, via the vintage and contemporary interviews it is obvious why this was such an important album in the evolution of popular music. The lyrics to songs like “Fiddle About” (written by Entwistle) remain disturbing to this day and helped paved the way for the acceptance of any manor of unsavory topic. All in all, a satisfying amount of history and insight is packed into a concise running time.
Framed at 1.78:1, Eagle Rock’s 1080i transfer offers a solid visual experience. As with any retrospective documentary that involves a lot of vintage, standard definition video clips, quality naturally varies quite wildly. The new material is nice and crisp, while the late-’60s material is understandably a mixed bag, though as good as can be expected. Also strong is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (there’s also a LPCM Stereo option) that really springs to life during the admittedly brief music-based segments. Sensation is mostly a talking-heads documentary, so while the talking is perfectly crisp and clear there isn’t a huge amount of surround activity.
There’s only one special feature, but it’s a good one: a 1969 episode of the German TV series Beat Club. This black-and-white piece runs 32 minutes and boasts a series of lip-synced performances of selections from Tommy. While true live performances would’ve obviously made it much better, it’s still fun to see the band running through the then-new material. Between-song interviews with Townshend help make this essential viewing for Who fans. Sensation: The Story of Tommy is also available on standard DVD.