Pink Floyd - The Wall Reviews
The film is about rock star Pink (Bob Geldof) who is slowly falling to pieces in his hotel room on the sunset strip. This is before the world was ingesting happy pills to eliminate or horrible pasts, so Pink is doing what was done in the era- sitting around watching TV with groupies. As the film progresses we see the things that pushed Pink to the precipice- the father he never knew dying in a war he didn't understand. The education system that was an assembly line for "citizens". The overbearing mother. The promiscuous wife. These things serves as his "bricks", layering upon each other until he really is behind his wall. Pink will be vulnerable no more. But at what cost?
The Wall is one of those films that breaks conventions, especially when thinking about musician movies. The norm is for the actual band to appear in their own film, but that's not the case with The Wall (though concert footage was going to be intertwined, but that's another story). This is a visualization of Pink Floyd's album from three years earlier. The fact that the band doesn't appear and most of the cast are relative unknowns shatters the idea of the rock star movie, most of which were either corny or bad (A Hard Day's Night is the logical exception).
Alan Parker's haunting visuals give us the starkness of Pink's outside world. It's a world of dark hotel rooms, fascist parades, and a general malaise from the title character. What really allows us to get inside Pink's head is the animations by Gerald Scarfe. You know you have a good design when kids are wearing them on t-shirts thirty years later. One of the most striking pieces in the film is the one I like to call the Georgia O'Keefe sequence where two flowers court each other, make love in a swirling vortex of Freudian images where you see the act, yet you don't and finally ending with the female plant consuming the male counterpart. This is Pink's psychosis as he continues to build his Wall. This isn't the Incredible Mr. Lippett.
The reason The Wall has continued to be relevant in an ever changing society is that it's issues go straight back to that age old rock n' roll ingredient called teen angst. Parents are lost to death or divorce as they also can be hindrances, schools want you in the classroom to meet a quota and get their government check, and who can forget those good old teen age relationships that really weren't as monumental as they were at the time. Every generation goes through this same stuff, making it relevant over and over again. This film has become a right of passage. Somewhere right now a teenager or a whole group of them is watching this for the first time. There won't be an analytical discussion of what the movie was about or Pink's little mental glitch, but it will stick with whoever watches it. I expect the day will come shortly when my copy is missing from the shelf, along with Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Filmmakers who learnt their trade making adverts are noted for their versatility, particularly in their ability to take any subject matter and turn it into a unique artistic vision. Like his contemporary Ridley Scott, Parker is a stunning visual artist with an eye for colour and composition, who understands how much can be said by an image. There is almost no dialogue in Pink Floyd -- The Wall, and there doesn't really need to be, because the images that Parker creates are so rich and multi-layered that they don't need the actors to fill in the blanks by talking.
On a purely visual level, Pink Floyd -- The Wall is fantastic. Parker beautifully captures the pale blues and khaki of WWII Britain, and then injects it with deep bloody reds and stark, haunting black as the fears and nightmares of Pink begin to unfold. The visual sensibility of the film, and the style in which it is put together, is reminiscent of Dario Argento's Suspiria, which is similarly graphic and yet wonderful to behold. The entire 'Thin Ice' sequence, in which Bob Geldof begins to drown in a pool which slowly turns to blood, is straight out of Argento; the visuals hypnotise you in such a way that the most graphic and gruesome scenes are also the most beautiful.
Because the film is so visually stunning, it is tempting to view it as a triumph of style over substance, like the later works of Brian De Palma. It is definitely the case that the film is not a literal or straightforward adaptation of Pink Floyd's rock opera, preferring instead to be a collection of surrealistic images which coalesce into a confusing but captivating character study. If you're a purist of the album, you'll find yourself frustrated by songs appearing in the wrong order and stopping halfway through. On the other hand, if you're not a Floyd fan at all, you'll just be a little confused and wondering where all this is leading.
However, this approach actually aids the film as a complete piece, even if individual scenes fall short along the way. By having the film jumping around in time, it allows us to see Pink's psychological collapse as something homogenous and deeply ingrained. If the film had been strictly linear, it would have felt like a series of contrived explorations of social excesses, making Pink's transformation seem less believable. But by cutting back and forth between Pink's past experiences and his current state in the locked hotel room, we gain a more layered understanding of the madness of the character, and share in his profound sense of alienation.
Despite this device paying off, the film does feel at points like it is pulling in different directions. Because of the production battles between Parker and Waters, and between Waters and the rest of the band, certain sections feel like an underwhelming compromise to keep things moving forward. The fascist rally in the final third is beautifully shot, but is spoiled by some bad choreography which just looks like... well, bad choreography. There are several annoying inconsistencies which remain overlooked. For instance, why does Bob Geldof only sing a few of the songs, and the rest are done by Roger Waters? If they're meant to be the same character, why not have the same person doing all the lines? The film would have had a better thread and point of focus if one of the two (probably Geldof) had stepped aside.
For all the striking images that Parker puts on screen, the best sections of the film are Gerald Scarfe's terrifying animations. Scarfe has always had an eye for the macabre, and never pulls his punches. The best of these include the famous marching hammers, which pop up in 'Waiting For The Worms'; the entire of 'Empty Spaces', with the Freudian flowers and the man transforming into a gun; and the whole of 'Goodbye Blue Sky', in which a dove is torn open to reveal a dark eagle and the Union Jack disintegrates into a bleeding cross. All of these images stick in your mind both because they are striking and because they tap into the heart of the story; they reflect the sense of disaffection and loss which runs through the whole project.
Alienation is at the heart of The Wall, both as an album and a film; both are about the walls we build between each other to keep us safe, but which end up driving us insane. Compare the opening shots, of the hotel corridor and Pink slumped in his chair, with the action surrounding the first number. Whereas the latter is frenetic and graphic, the former is creepy and chilling. The opening scenes seem slow on first viewing, but they do a good job of establishing just how distant Pink is from all other human activity. The shot of the cigarette burned right down to the knuckles is a clear indication of what kind of burnt-out shell we are dealing with.
Throughout the film there are subsequent references to this distance Pink feels, from his loneliness in the park as a child to the way he ignores his girlfriend as she strips in front of him. This self-imposed isolation comes back to haunt him, to the point at which he eventually snaps and puts himself on trial. Much like the album, the ending is left ambiguous as to whether or not Pink has survived the experience of tearing down the wall. Considering the prolonged scream (done by Waters), it seems to suggest that Pink is dead, but the images that follow of the young boys in the rubble hint at a more optimistic outcome, if not for Pink, then for the rest of us behind our respective walls.
Pink Floyd -- The Wall is not a perfect film by any means. The little inconsistencies in the storytelling and the nature by which the ideas are explored can seem alienating on first viewing, particularly to people who aren't fans of the Floyd. But as a tonal piece, about isolation, distance and madness, it is a very fine achievement indeed. Nearly thirty years on it never fails to chill you, and it clearly rewards repeat viewing. Its relentless and uncompromising style work to its advantage to create a highly memorable experience, for better or worse. Most of all, it manages somehow to do justice to one of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll.
Not only is the story captivating, but the music is such that it will always be noted as not only ahead of its time, but timeless.
The Wall is a masterpiece of storytelling, but not in the traditional sense. One must not watch this film expecting everything on a silver platter. Symbolism and metaphors abound, leaving a great deal of interpretation and adaptation to the viewer. Sit with an open mind and let Waters' character help you read into yourself.
Except for substituting "When the Tigers Broke Free" for "Hey You," the album's material is complete. Many of the tracks have been reworked, a tad slower and much richer than the originals, revealing all the nuances that the film's crisp sound uncovers.
Roger Waters, bass player for Pink Floyd as well as the film's maestro, knew exactly how his audience would react toward his film even as he designed the poster art, which offers vivid snatches of several scenes scattered around the autistic main character. He is right: one doesn't remember the film as a whole so much as one is more inclined to remember a bombastic series of vignettes that have somehow surrounded Pink (played by Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats).
The images, however, do reflect a kind of demented poetry to them. Blood, whether it's dripping into a pool or a sink full of shaving cream, looks exquisite on film, just as light in the form of a match and a fluorescent bulb can appear to bring warmth as well as an oppressive glare to different scenes.
Reviewing "The Wall" is entirely different from reviewing other movies made from albums, like "Quadrophenia" or "Sgt. Pepper," because "The Wall" is meant as a piece of didactic art as opposed to a conventional rendition of an album, explaining the album's concept and themes rather than attempt to dramatize the 1.
The universal themes of love, sex, war and oppression link each scene as Pink attempts to provide some sort of rationale for his world. In several scenes one can almost hear Waters describing how he wants the scene shot in order to bring about this or that type of symbolism.
"In the lyrics it says 'his fat and psychopathic wife," Waters might have explained to Parker, "but that's just his warped perception of her. Actually, she is just an average wife who uses her stern facade to instill in him the perfect behavior he lacks. Get it? Okay, let's shoot it from the ground looking up so she looks bigger than life and gives her a little more respect."
"The Wall" as a story is so lyrically tight that the album by contrast can't be pinned down to an examination of definite meanings. The film maintains this cornucopia of interpretations by painting numerous layers through images that sometimes flow, sometimes collide with each other. For example, Gerald Scarfe's animations can metamorphose a dove into a symbol of Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force and finally the ruins of England, reversing any Phoenix myths.
Scarfe also triumphs with the visual accompaniment to the lengthened version of "Empty Spaces" as the path of "Shooting superstars" is sarcastically examined. And a tender love scene between two flowers erupts into a violent rape as pistil and stamen battle each other mercilessly.
The central point of the film is that Waters, or any other rock star, has the ability to become a fascist dictator in relatively the same kind of war that destroyed his father, the cornerstone of his wall. And that rock and roll has become a religion (or Reich) that has the same hierarchy and rituals as a socialistic society. The audience, however, is oblivious to it all, even as it enjoys it, and has for thirty some years.
"The Wall" has the potential to be either a depressing hour-and-a-half of celluloid or a brilliantly colored, insightful tool to see just how far we will let out entertainers rule our lives, and vice versa.
To break down "The Wall" for you kids out there, it's a darkly surreal art piece that meditates just as much, if not more on metaphorical imagery than it does on the almost obligatory "plot", which chronicles, in a non-linear fashion, the lonely youth and adulthood of fictional rockstar Pink through scarce dialogue, but instead, interpretive visuals and music from Pink Floyd's album "The Wall". It's an interesting concept, and certainly a daringly unique one, yet one that's bound to run into faults along the way and, sure enough, does, as the film's structure gets to be distancingly convoluted, or at least for a little while, because as repetitious as this film is, you're bound to figure out where it's going after a while. The film isn't monotonous, yet its defining style and, to a certain degree, "plot" do begin to run in circles on more than a few occasions and lose steam, and by extension, their meaning, a problem exacerbated by the film's focus getting to be a bit hazed, as it will sometimes find itself focusing too much on metaphorical style than story, and will sometimes even find itself focusing too much on the gimmick of the style, rather its substance. The film is generally committed to its interpretive themes and isn't quite as gimmicky as its concept makes it sound, yet it's hard to pretty much literally make an album into a film without getting gimmicky, let alone when that adaptation is riddled with stylish imagery, and with all of the film's good intentions of artistry, subtlety and depth will lapse, thus leaving this film to occasionally plummet into being not much more than an hour-and-a-half-long advertizement for a then-almost-three-year-old album, which I suppose I don't mind too much, partially because when this film goes back to avant-garde artistry, it gets to be too much of that for its own good. When the music dies down and all of the strange imagery calms itself down, the film, of course, gets really quiet and meditative, and by extension, slow, occasionally to the point of being just plain dull, and certainly to the point of feeling a bit pretentious, or at least more so than usual, as the film, while not arrogant, boasts a certain degree of consistent self-congradulation. This pretentiousness isn't terribly extreme, yet even if it was more intense, it would have to be pretty intense to not be the least of this film's problems, as this film is what it is, and what it is is what you would expect: sometimes slow, a bit uneven in focus, occasionally gimmicky, a smidge self-congradulatory and altogether not terribly upstanding, yet don't go in expecting those expected problems to be as severe as you expected. Again, the film is what it is, and for what it is, it's all but worthwhile, for although this film gets to be too much of what it is, as well as a bit unintentionally messy in structure, to not be underwhelming, what this film does get right is worthwhile, and that certainly includes style.
Peter Biziou's photography is indeed something to behold, being cleverly well-staged to produce strikingly neat shots, complimented by handsome lighting that finds occasions in which it's beautifully radiant in a fitting surreal fashion, while Gerald Scarfe leaves the film to continue to dazzle even during its animated moments by crafting, albeit disturbing and sometimes too bizarre, yet generally excellent cartoons that sometimes get to be too far-out, but generally make good use of their taking this film out of reality to bring the film's metaphors more down to earth. The film's visual style is lush and really brings the film's imagery to life, though perhaps not quite as much as the audible style, because if anything beats stylish toons in this film, then it's got to be stylish tunes. As the title tells you, the film is based on Pink Floyd's "The Wall", an awesome album that offers some of the band's best work, so you better believe that this soundtrack is excellent and boasts groovy, grand and thought-provoking tunes that you're likely to appreciating even more when watching this film, as the music's quality goes backed up by some toe-tappingly stylish musical numbers, - complimented by Gerry Hambling's snappy editing - while its depth goes backed up by a man who's no stranger to metaphorical drama. Just as much as it makes for a challenging music showcase piece, Roger Waters' script makes for a challenging directing piece, being driven entirely by concepts of interpretive atmosphere and symbolism, rather than dialogue and exposition, and while subtlety and focus will occasionally fault, on the whole, Alan Parker steps up and delivers an impressive directorial performance, often keeping the film's quieter moments a bit too quiet, yet generally manipulating the quietness to somberly meditate upon the dramatic depth of the "story" - such as it is - and sometimes draw a fair degree of effectiveness, intensified by an underwritten yet engagingly atmospheric lead performance by Bob Geldof. Still, it's how Parker handles Pink Floyd's songs that impresses the most, for although Parker gets to be a bit heavy-handed with his interpretive musical cues, he always makes sure to really play up the music for your enjoyment, yet he still, more often than not, takes restraint and unravels both music and visuals in graceful conjunction in order to draw from the symbolism of the music and marry it with the atmosphere of the interpretive "story"telling, - thus strengthening the film's thematically symbolic subtlety and metaphorical depth when it needs to be conveyed the most - while also absorbing the music's more soulful aspects as fine substitutes for dialogue and exposition in drawing dramatic poignancy from the "story", thus creating sometimes genuinely effective emotional resonance. Okay, seriously, I joke about how there's not much plot to this film, but there is a story at the core of this film's focus, and it is genuinely worthy and compelling, as are the film's thought-provoking themes and metaphors, and while the delivery of the film's worthy story and themes are often mishandled, they're generally well-sold by Alan Parker for his inspired direction, Bob Geldof for his engagingly atmospheric lead acting performance and Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters for his cleverly unique screenplay, even if it does get to be too unique for its own good. The film does deserve to be better and even has the tools to be better, though at the end of the day, it makes too many faults to be as strong as it should be, and yet, what this film does get right gives us glimpses of a stronger film, and just enough so for you to walk away having had a generally enjoyable, really trippy time.
To break down this metaphorical wall, the film all too often succumbs to such expected flaws as moderate self-righteousness, occasional lapses in subtlety and moments of a rather gimmicky feel, as well as to slow spots, a bit of repetition, an occasionally uneven thematic focus and altogether not enough consistent bite for the final product to be as sharp as it very well could have been, yet with that all said, the film still hits more than it misses, delivering on a striking style - brought to life by Gerry Hambling's excellent editing, Peter Biziou's beautiful photography and, when it comes into play, Gerald Scarfe's excellently trippy animation - and a stellar soundtrack, played with cleverly by director Alan Parker to mostly subtly emphasize the thought-provoking metaphorical themes and, with the help of Bob Geldof's "comfortably numb", and by that I mean compellingly atmospheric, intriguing dramatic depth within Roger Waters' unique screenplay, thus leaving "Pink Floyd: The Wall" to stand as an improvable, yet generally enjoyably surreal and rather thought-provokingly lyrical interpretation of some of most inspired musical work of the legendary progressive rock band.
2.5/5 - Fair