A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 555 – Pink Floyd: The Wall

Pink Floyd’s The Wall – September 6th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned my parents’ collection of vinyl albums before. Probably in my Woodstock review and likely in my reviews of various Beatles-based movies and I’m sure I mentioned it when we watched the Pulse concert on DVD. But I think it bears mentioning again, because my love of Pink Floyd comes from that collection. My mother, as it so happens, still loves Pink Floyd. I bought her a copy of the Pulse concert album when it came out on audio cassette so she could listen to it in her car and sing along. My brother tried to “lose” it once, but he didn’t succeed. My parents owned every album except, oddly enough, The Wall. That I had to bum off a friend from school, then buy my own copy of. I recently learned that my mother has never seen this movie. It seems like a strange absence, doesn’t it?

When Andy and I met we found we had many things in common when it came to media interests. We both loved MST3K. We both loved Doctor Who. We had similar taste in books. We had similar taste in movies. In television. And we had similar taste in music, largely centered around The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I hadn’t seen this movie when I met him, but it was on my list of things to see. And my first impression of it was that it was just as strange and dark as I’d been led to expect. And really, despite it being decades old and used as a visual backdrop for many a teenager’s angst-ridden years, I think it still holds up. Mostly because I think while it’s about angst in general, it’s also specific in the right ways and general in the right ways as to connect with many people outside of a specific time period while maintaining a story that doesn’t feel muddied.

Now, on one hand I’m tempted to roll my eyes. I mean, the story is, on the surface, about a white British guy, referred to as Pink, who lost his father in World War II. He becomes a rock musician, and then either goes insane and imagines himself as a fascist dictator or actually does become one and apparently blames it on a number of external reasons: His mother was overprotective. His father died in the war. His wife was predatory. Fame is hard! On the other hand, the movie takes a lot of what’s on the album and presents visuals that are far more conflicted. His mother is never really all that overbearing. His wife apparently truly cares for him and only turns on him when he’s already pretty much completely shut her out. His father died, yes, and that sucks. Everything else seems to be exaggerated in his own mind. His actions are out of proportion to the events around him. The turmoil in his head has roots outside of Pink himself, but where it could come off as an elaborate blame game it instead shows a tragedy of one person failing to cope.

There’s very little spoken material in the movie. It’s almost entirely the album, but with a few additional songs and bits of music. The spoken lines are mostly in the background. They’re things said while the music plays and they’re important for the setting, but more than that they’re a clue to the audience that what we’re hearing isn’t what’s actually going on. We’re hearing Pink’s internal thoughts. Which is really very revealing if you’re going to go trying to analyze the movie for its psychological meanings. I’m not well enough versed in psychology to go making judgements and slapping labels on anything here beyond being able to see that there are two very distinct worlds at play on the screen. One is the real world and one is the fantasy playing out in Pink’s head. The line blurs quite a bit when it comes to the fascist dictator parts, but anything animated is obviously not actually going on.

The ending does imply rather heavily that the entire fascism bit was all in Pink’s head. There’s certainly a good bit of animation in it, with hammers marching in lock step. But there’s also a lot of live action. It’s not entirely clear. I choose to believe that it’s a fantasy. I’m sure if I spent more time on it I could draw some interesting conclusions about Pink’s father’s death and his later Nazi-esque fantasies. I’m sure other people already have. The fact remains that plenty of other people lost their fathers in the war and plenty of people continue to lose parents in wars. It’s terrible and traumatic, but it doesn’t seem to produce vast numbers of ex-rock star fascist leaders. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t so much about a general trend as it is about a single person’s reactions. And in that, the movie certainly adds to the music.

I am a little (okay, more than a little) uncomfortable with the knowledge that the filmmakers hired real skinheads for the fascist concert scenes, ostensibly for “realism”. It’s good to know that they got uncomfortable too, when a couple of the audience cast came in with the hammer symbol shaved into their hair. The danger here is that in presenting these scenes with catchy music, the line between encouraged and discouraged is very much blurred. While I can look at the movie and see that it’s very much against the nastiness that plays out near the end, other people might not see it that way. It’s a risky step. But I’m sure someone out there would say that’s what makes it good art. Fine.

What I think makes it good art is the combination of music, live action and animation. Granted, nothing in this movie is subtle and the animation is the least subtle part of it, but the combination all works. And it’s good animation. It’s just that it’s a bit of an anvil, metaphorically speaking. Fortunately, it’s not the entire movie. If it was it would be too much. But combined with Pink Floyd’s music and the acting from the main cast, it’s given just enough of a role. I do think Bob Geldof was a good choice for Pink and I was amused to realize that we’ve seen Eleanor David, who plays his wife, in something else (Comfort and Joy). Geldof has the most to shoulder, being the center of the entire piece, but the rest of the cast fits nicely. And overall the movie simply works for me. It’s a sad story, but it’s meant to be sad. And while I will continue to listen to the album, and I’m sure radio stations will continue to play Another Brick in the Wall out of context (which I feel is sort of like only playing a small piece of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick), the movie is excellently done as a complete package in a way that just one part of it could never be.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd: The Wall

September 9, 2011

Pink Floyd: The Wall

I was intimately familiar with the album this movie is based on long before I saw the film. Like most kids born after a certain time “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” was a kind of anthem for me during a certain part of my high-school years. I had The Wall as a two tape set if memory serves me right, and I listened to it incessantly on my walkman. (Yeah, I guess that dates me.) At one point in college, slightly before I finally saw this movie, I transcribed every word on the album from the tapes – including half heard spoken dialog – as something to do one night. When I saw the film at last I was utterly blown away, and even today I still find it mesmerizing and impressive.

The album is, of course, Roger Waters’ masterful rock opera about how difficult it is to be a rock star. I’ve always wondered to what extent the music is autobiographical. Right at the beginning he admonishes us “If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes/you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.” Then he proceeds to break down the character of the singer (named Pink Floyd strangely enough) and explore what makes him the way he is. One by one Waters examines the bricks that make up Pink’s wall.

There’s his sometimes indifferent and sometimes over controlling mother. The film ads more back-story for Pink’s father with a song not on the album called “When the Tigers Broke Free” that explains about the death of Pink’s father during World War II. There’s the British school system which tried to dehumanise and homogenise him. There’s the infidelity of his wife (brought on by his own detachment.) There’s the general stress of being a rock star on the road in America. And of course there is an awful lot of drug use to dull the pain.

Ultimately Pink becomes so detached and confused that he descends into a sort of fascist dream where he’s the leader of a neo-nazi regime. The implication is, I think, that in its extremity the walls we build between each other to deal with modern life allows us to dehumanise others to such a degree that it can result in reprehensible behavior towards our fellow man. The only hope, Waters seems to say, is to break down the walls.

What the film does is to take the music of the album and present it with visuals that complement it just about perfectly. It expands on the album and makes it a little more explicit, while at the same time adding some slightly unnecessary scenes of unrelated British riots (which rang a little too true after the events in Tottingham this last month.)

The brilliance of the film, in my opinion, lies in the way it is presented largely as flashback. We get to see Pink initially in his neo-Nazi skinhead appearance, and then the movie sets out to explain how he came to be in this state. We repeatedly come back to Pink in his devastated hotel room and over the course of the film we get to see how it got to be in the state it is in. I’ve always love non-linear storytelling, and it makes for a great hook to keep you invested in Pink’s story.

Of course there is the jaw-dropping fluid animation of long time Pink Floyd collaborator Gerald Scarfe. Throughout the film his nightmare imagery brings the more psychedelic portions, such as Pink’s insecurities, to the screen. In particular there is a lot of imagery casting the women in Pink’s life as predatory creatures that use their sexuality to dominate him. There’s also some great scenes of the titular wall forming and corrupting the peaceful English countryside, the unforgettable marching hammers which are the sign of Pink’s corrupt fascist nightmare. It all culminates in the Trial, where figures from Pink’s past berate him and he is sentenced by The Worm (a talking arse with a judge’s wig) to have his wall torn down, exposing him to his peers.

This movie is a a delirious fever dream. I’ve seen it innumerable times by now which is why my review might appear to be a little cerebral and analytical. In fact it is better to let the film wash over you, as I did the first few times. There is so much to absorb here, from the story, to the music to the vivid imagery. Bob Geldof as the adult pink is brilliant, so damaged and overcome by the excesses of his life. I get the impression that it was a brutal role to play and that Geldof really gave himself up to the part. His singing may not be great, but that doesn’t hurt hte movie any. It’s an overwhelming overdose of a film and I’m always willing to give myself up to it once again.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment