Fully automatic MP-40 gunfire dropping streams of hot brass, bomb explosions, Liam Neeson, fireworks, tequila shots, Ray-Ban clad Neo Nazis in trenchcoats, iPod-toting Hitlers, live flying WWII planes and giant nightmarish puppets – a Tarantino screenplay? No. Just some good old fashioned rock theater. Roger Waters The Wall, to be exact. And yeah, I cried too.
Just when I thought I’d seen it all, just when I thought I’d become desensitized and familiar with all things Pink Floyd, the great Roger Waters strikes back hard with a full-length tour de force concert film that left me spellbound.
Captured in full 1080p high-def luster, Roger Waters The Wall is a gorgeous, emotionally wrenching statement about war and human loss, given a fresh facelift relevant to the geopolitically trying times of today. At it’s core though, the film is a two-hour long visual exorcism of Roger’s single greatest personal demon (and creative fire) – the loss of his father in World War II.
Instead of watching a disheveled Bob Geldof waste away in smoky L.A. hotel rooms, we’re guided by a smartly dressed Waters through regal cemeteries, war memorials and dark oaken hallways in classy French hotels doing shots of top shelf Jose Cuervo (I did NOT take Roger Waters for a tequila guy). In fact, the film is in many ways similar to Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same in that it interleaves footage of Roger’s personal side-story narrative with actual concert footage. And as much as I’d LOVE to see Roger Waters gallivanting on horseback, storming castles and rescuing fair maidens, we are taken in a vintage Rolls Royce on a deeply personal-and sometimes painful- road trip spanning from overcast English countryside to the shores of south Italy.
Sitting in the mostly empty theater (there behind my wall)-flanked by mostly Boomers and Gen-X’ers -I was clearly the youngest one there, perhaps even the only millennial. My run-ins with Pink Floyd fans my age are extremely rare (unless I’m in Austin, TX). And by “fan” I mean someone whose first reaction to the band isn’t just reciting “we don’t need no education”. Despite Dark Side of the Moon being the bestselling rock album of all time, it baffles me how little Pink Floyd love and awareness there is in the world- and if there is, people just aren’t showing it! Sitting there in the theater, I couldn’t help but wonder how my experience with The Wall differed from that of my fellow movie-goers. Did I discover this Waters-driven Floyd masterpiece any differently than my older peers? War, sheltered upbringing, innocence lost to sex drugs & rock ‘n roll, heartbreak, depression, societal disillusionment, isolation, self-loathing, rebirth, prejudice, racism, and the idea that our greatest fear is to be exposed and vulnerable – what themes of the human condition doesn’t The Wall touch on?
Like many of my fellow Floyd fans, I discovered The Wall in my formative high school years during which I dealt with many of those very themes. But the truly great thing about The Wall is that it’s one of those rare, timeless albums whose message is universal, and somehow always relatable. I once naively thought I had outgrown the album after graduating past those chaotic coming-of-age high school and college years; that true to its stereotype, The Wall was just a silly phase every angsty teen went through. But I was very wrong. I’ve continued to rediscover and relate differently to the songs as I’ve marched forward into the brave new world of adulthood.
But of course the real fire and excitement of the movie lies in the concert footage itself. And as someone very critical of live Pink Floyd—especially live Pink Floyd without the mighty David Gilmour—my expectations were exceeded. Granted, the performances were likely heightened by the film’s superb editing, mixing, and playback through theater-grade speakers, I’m willing to give Waters and his band the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble is about a 50/50 split of British and American musicians. Lead guitar duties are shared between Dave Kilminster and the ever-faithful Snowy White (who toured extensively with Floyd during Animals and The Wall, and who is responsible for one of the coolest, unreleased Floyd solos ever in “Pigs On The Wing”). With a few exceptions, I was pleasantly surprised with the care and respect they gave to preserving the original legendary work of Dave Gilmour. However “In The Flesh Pts. 1 an 2”, “The Thin Ice”, and “One of My Turns” just aren’t played with enough of that wild, piercing Stratocaster abandon as in the originals. Instead, the three songs come off as too cautious and subdued (as is the problem with most Gilmour impersonations). I could write another article on guitarwork comparisons alone, but I will stop here.
G.E. Smith (Hall and Oates, Saturday Night Live) competently handles rhythm guitar and bass when Roger plays six-string. John Carin and Harry Waters (Roger’s son) take on keyboards and piano. Robbie Wyckoff provides the Gilmour-esque baritone vocals; and while a bit stiff, captures them with all the elegance and grace of Gilmour himself.
“Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Vera” were probably the most heartbreaking and beautiful moments of the film. If you can’t sit through “Vera” without tearing up then there is seriously something wrong with you! I challenge you!
“Mother” was another standout, featuring an intimate performance from Roger on acoustic guitar, hauntingly synced up to an old black and white video of him playing the same song from the 1980 tour. The juxtaposition was too perfect, and of no coincidence – the grainy video above the stage showed a young, arrogant, domineering (and utterly genius) bandleader playing in sharp contrast to the much older, lighthearted and good-humored man on stage below. And while Roger hastily reveals later in the film that he’s torn down many of his personal walls, he defeatedly admits he still hasn’t torn down all of them. Damn. Who can’t relate to that?
Overall, the songs are very well done, and minimal artistic license is taken with the exception of a few personal flares here and there. Roger has always treated the album as a classical composition, and it shows. He has little tolerance for variation from the original studio recordings.
To both die-hard and “have-been” Pink Floyd fans alike, Roger Waters The Wall is a must-see. It is a audio/visual kick-in-the-ass guaranteed to make you re-think and rediscover what this album means to you. So if you need a break from the information firehose of Netflix TV show binging and want to get out and actually feel something, go see this movie in theaters on Sunday, October 18th.