[Film Review] Roger Waters The Wall

Roger Waters The WallBy now, you should be very much aware that I’m a bit of a Pink Floyd fan. I’ve written about Floyd, Roger Waters and particularly The Wall for a number of times now, and you’re probably sick of hearing about it. So I went to see Roger Waters The Wall in the cinema last night and decided to bore you a little further instead.One might accuse Roger Waters of milking The Wall for all it’s worth for over 35 years now, and they’d probably be right. On the other hand, he’s reinvented it in a way with each new incarnation as well. From the angsty, concept album about rockstar Syd/Pink, to a cult film featuring Bob Geldof, to a powerful message at Potsdamer Platz and finally to a massive three-year audiovisual trek around the globe, The Wall has never been the same in any of those versions. It has always had Waters at the very heart of it though; his trying to cope with the loss of his father in the second world war, and his father before that during the first. But it has never been so blatant as in Waters’ latest concert film. Roger Waters The Wall is, in the end, all about Roger, and the film finally hammers home that this is a deeply personal story after all.

First and foremost, however, it is a concert film, and shows us live footage recorded from a number of shows during the massive 2010-2013 tour. For those who have had the pleasure to attend any of those concerts, it’s all familiar, and it gives us a glimpse of what things might have looked like from the other side of the arena and from the stage. For those who missed out on the live shows, it’s a treat as well. The stage production is one of the most elaborate of its kind, and the amount of pyrotechnics, puppetry and animation effects used to pull it off is still mind-boggling. And it remains the biggest and most impressive live show I have ever seen. The concert film starts off with actor Liam Neeson stating what The Wall means to him, and it’s not hard to imagine there are some people in the cinema audience for which this seminal work has been a similar life-changer. The Wall’s narrative is one for the ages; it’s about anxiety, about fear, about finding your own place in life and about tearing down one’s own walls. No, Neeson isn’t the only one for whom that narrative rings through.

The film then opens with Roger himself, hitting the motorway in a caravan of cars. “We’re going home,” he says. We’re going home indeed, following Roger to his house in the Hamptons. He packs a book (Fear, by Gabriel Chevallier) and a trumpet, loads the bag into his vintage Bentley (this film giving him an excuse to finally buy one), and starts a very personal trek. A pilgrimage, of sorts. First to the memorial in Northern France to pay his respects to his grandfather, where he blows a solemn trumpet, heralding the start of the live concert footage. The new, road trip like footage, is seamlessly and beautifully interspersed between the live bits, and the live show really compliments the new meta-narrative and vice versa.

It’s remarkable how the short interludes of that road trip from England to France and finally Southern Italy, where Roger’s father died, never last too long as to outstay their welcome. This is because there’s some genuinely powerful stuff in there. The scenes where Waters tearfully breaks down when he reads the letter they sent his mum to inform that her husband had been shot during the Battle of Anzio, or where he visits his grandfather’s grave with his children, are very emotional, and very real. [1] This is a road trip filled with footage of a man trying to find closure, trying to finally come to terms with something that has haunted him for his entire life. It’s a very personal journey to which we are invited, and we should be thankful we get to tag along. One of the best moments is where Waters takes a break in a French bar, where he recounts stories of his father’s death to a bartender who can’t understand him. It’s impressively played and beautifully shot (like all the road trip footage, I might add). And the way this stuff is integrated is phenomenal, more often than not very reminiscent of Storm Thorgerson’s visual wizardry work back in the day. It’s often just as bleak, and extremely iconic.

The concert footage, of course, is top notch. I’ve seen the show thrice, and seeing it at the cinema for a fourth time, now through the eyes of the omnipresent cameras, is a joy as well. There is something timeless about The Wall as an album and as a concept. I’ve already gone to lengths to explain what that concept means to me, so I’ll refrain from doing that here, but let’s suffice to say that it’s still as daunting, as profound and as gloriously pompous as it’s always been, both musically and visually. Sure, the floating pig, the dancing school kids, the double vocal track Roger does with his “angry, miserable, stupid” self from 1980’s concert footage is a bit naff, but they fit perfectly in the grand scheme of things. At the end, when the wall comes down and Roger blows his final trumpet in Italy, where his father’s name is inscribed on a war memorial, you get a real feeling of closure, of coming full circle in more ways than one. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, there are cracks in everyone’s wall if you know where to find them.

(It should be noted, for completion’s sake, that the main feature was followed by a short, insightful and often very funny conversation between Waters and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, where they mull over sent-in questions by fans over a glass of wine. I sincerely hope this will be included in some form on the eventual home video release for all to see.)

[1]. I for one do not believe Waters is good enough an actor to pull off feigned emotion. Yes, most, if not all moments are planned and, partly, staged. Yes, the moment India Waters lays flower petals down at her great-grandfathers grave probably has been shot a number of times to get just right, but those moments where Waters visibly breaks down from years of trauma and grief? If that’s fake, the man deserves an Academy Award.

Further surfing:

Review by Ralph Plug

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