Pink Floyd: The Wall

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I guess whether you derive any enjoyment out of the film version of The Wall depends on whether you like the album. If you think the album is a bunch of pretentious whining nonsense, then you'll probably think the film is that tenfold. But if you like the record then you might well find something to enjoy.

Personally, liking the album a great deal, I think the film is passable enough. There are certainly some great moments. But there are also some dodgy ones. And as a whole the film is nothing more than a shallow exercise in visualising exactly what's happening in the music – the film doesn't interpret, it regurgitates. Therefore it's nothing more than an extended music video.

Part of the effect of this lack of imagination is that it makes the whole experience rather bland. It doesn't show you anything that you weren't able to think up for yourself while listening to the album. For instance, 'Comfortably Numb' features Pink (Bob Geldof) getting jabbed by doctors and shows him as a kid with a fever – the filmmakers slavishly follow the lyrics. And then with 'Young Lust' you have groupies getting their clothes off and with 'One of My Turns' you have Pink, well…having a turn. It doesn't build upon the album - it becomes its less coherent reflection.

But even though the examples given don't really add anything to the record, at least they don't detract, which unfortunately happens later on. The first half of the film, while often lacking in imagination, is at least well filmed (sometimes beautifully so). The second half, though, is tedious and rather dull – songs like 'In the Flesh', 'Run Like Hell' and 'Waiting For the Worms' are rendered almost laughable by singing and dancing Nazis, who are more camp than threatening. And then in 'Is There Anybody Out There?' you just have Geldof banging himself against a wall and in 'Nobody Home' you have a young Pink wandering about in some trenches. It doesn't make for inspiring viewing.

But despite this, the film does occasionally proffer a surprise, one that builds upon the basis of the album. For instance, 'The Thin Ice', rather than doing the blatantly obvious with the lyrics, instead juxtaposes them against dead, injured and dying soldiers. It adds a whole layer of emotion to lyrics like 'Momma loves her baby…' while this is played against soldiers dragging dead bodies from a beach. And I also like the way that halfway through the song you cut to Pink alone in a hotel swimming pool – the association is subtly conveyed; Pink's isolation can be traced all the way back to his father's death in the Second World War.

Another minor success in the film is 'In the Flesh?'. I like the way the battlefield of war is cut against the battlefield of teenage idolatry – the kids rushing to get a seat, trampling each other underfoot, is mirrored in the way soldiers try and attack the enemy. However, the song is spoiled somewhat when Geldof opens his mouth. He sings the song like an Irish Johnny Rotten – the words sound like someone scratching a blackboard.

Likewise, the second version of 'In the Flesh' is also spoiled by Geldof's singing – the insults he throws out to the audience are delivered like the camp policeman in Withnail and I whose only line was 'Get in the back of the van!!' But the song is also spoiled by a Nazi brass band playing the music. It lacks the aggression of the recorded song and instead makes it rather laughable and ridiculous.

Something else that doesn't always work are the animated sequences. As well made as they are, and as much as they appeal to potheads, they're not always well integrated into the film, making it even more painfully obvious that the film is only about style – don't watch The Wall for substance. But even though they make the film disjointed, they're worth it for the copulating flowers and the planes that turn into flying crucifixes – they're a couple of wonderful visual flourishes.

Other visuals that work are the children going to school in a cattle truck, the rather disturbing scenes where Pink shaves all his body hair off, the way that a slightly routine version of 'Comfortably Numb' turns into something of a horror film with Pink's rebirth and the scene in the swimming pool where Pink drowns in blood. But as is always the case with this film, amongst this you have to endure a lifeless version of 'Mother' (the song is one of the highlights on the live album), a goofy visualisation of 'Bring the Boys Back Home' and lots of failed attempts at profundity. Honestly, the best way to experience Roger Waters' story is to stick with the live album, Is There Anybody Out There. It's a million times better than this film and a lot fuller and richer than the slightly anti-septic studio version.

Directed by Alan Parker
Written by Roger Waters
Produced by Alan Marshall
Original Music by Bob Ezrin, David Gilmour and Roger Waters
Cinematography by Peter Biziou
Starring Bob Geldof and Bob Hoskins

Running Time: 95 mins

Rated R for disturbing images, language and angst

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