95 min., 1982
Written by Roger Waters
Directed by Alan Parker
My rating: ★★★★★
“I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.”
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As a somewhat unhappy teenager with my own wall, I felt that Pink Floyd’s The Wall was speaking to me directly. I felt like the material showed and shared my own pain. Trying to reflect on it now, I feel like I shouldn’t think highly of the film, because I’m not that person anymore. I have to give myself permission to view it as art, rather than as a capsule of my own unhappiness from many years ago. I didn’t want to like it, I wanted to find fault, because to do otherwise would harken back to that long-ago version of myself.
I couldn’t do it.
Of course being a movie of a rock-opera concept album, there’s the music. It still speaks to me (fortunately less forcefully than back then), and the album version the movie is based on is one of the great albums of our time: Rolling Stone says it’s #87 on their list of the top 500, and it’s sold over 11 million copies. I’ve always thought music was a critically important to the feel of a movie, even if it is not central to the plot and theme, as it provides an emotional backdrop to guide our experiences. In The Wall the music is not only the background and emotional center, but it is also the vast majority of the script and the dialog as well. It’s perhaps not Pink Floyd’s best work—I usually give that to Dark Side of the Moon—but it does represent an extraordinary band at the top of their form.
And unlike many concept albums, even from the psychedelic and progressive rock forms that Pink Floyd hails from, The Wall has a strong plot that can guide a movie realization into being a story rather than a rock version of Fantasia. If I imagined an alternate version scored, for example, replacing “Mother” with Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” it would still be a film in the conventional horror mold documenting Pink’s decent into isolation and then madness.
And it would still have the Gerald Scarfe animation.
If I think about The Wall at all, even in its album form, all that comes up is images from the animation. Images of the Pink at the wall, the bird-airplane-crosses, the erotic flowers, the judge. The marching hammers. In fact, there they are, right on the DVD cover. The Wall has 15 minutes of animation sequences, all drawn by hand, at times with a slightly unfinished look that is hard to come by in the modern era of cheap computer animation. Scarfe’s background was in political cartooning, and the imagery is politically charged, with strong anti-war and anti-establishment themes. Scarfe also served as production designer, and much of the imagery from the animation sequences is also used to guide the live action segments. This is especially notable in “Goodbye Cruel World,” where the live action Pink echoes the animation from “Goodbye Blue Sky” with the detritus of his destructive rampage.
In a movie like this, the cast is secondary, almost incidental. The only character who gets any significant screen time is Pink himself, played at three ages by different actors. As a highly autobiographical piece (much of Pink’s experiences are based on Waters’ life, with bits and pieces of former bandmate Syd Barrett thrown in), Waters originally intended to portray Pink himself, but ultimately Bob Geldof, an Irish musician, was brought in to play the adult Pink. Geldof was originally hesitant to take the role, as he was not a fan of Pink Floyd’s music or the project; if anything this improves the film as Geldof comes off with a measure of self-loathing that is key to Pink’s characterization.
Sure, there are aspects of the movie that I wish were done differently. “Hey You” from the album (cut for time) was sorely missed, and I am not a fan of the Bob Geldof’s rerecording of the music for “In The Flesh.” I could have lived without Pink’s self-mutilation. I could have lived without the strong evocations of Neo-Nazism. But I am reminded of the scene from Amadeus in which Mozart’s patron criticizes his music, describing it as having “Too many notes,” and Mozart describes it as having as many notes he required, no more and no less. These are important parts of Pink’s characterization, and if they have been removed the whole would have been diminished.
Now that I can look at The Wall with more detachment and see it as a work of art without being overwhelmed with the emotional connection, I expected to find it to be lacking. Instead, I see the virtuosity of the music, the production design, and the animation. I see the pain of its creation rather than the pain of the story. And I am a bit surprised to see that it holds up remarkably well to that new view.Have You Read...?