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Looking back at Pink Floyd's seminal rock film 'The Wall'

The nature of the ‘concert band’, the performer (or performers) who are so idolised that they can entertain audiences for hours, is somewhat of a solitary concept. Fans become detached from the real essence of the art as lyrics and meaning is lost in the sheer visceral noise and flashing lights of the performance itself. This, in itself, can be embraced by musicians, with British band Coldplay having mastered the ‘concert performance’, full of light, colour, high energy and gimmicky wristbands that light up in time to the music. Though for bands and performers who aren’t Coldplay, and who might want to actively distance themselves from that type of performance, such great fame can prove alienating. 

This was the case in the mid-1970s for Pink Floyd, with songwriter Roger Waters stating that, “Audiences at those vast concerts are there for an excitement which, I think, has to do with the love of success”. Continuing, he notes that, “When a band or a person becomes an idol, it can have to do with the success that that person manifests, not the quality of work he produces. You don’t become a fanatic because somebody’s work is good, you become a fanatic to be touched vicariously by their glamour and fame”. 

Dismayed by the “executive approach”, which seemed to revolve only around success, the concept of The Wall was sparked. It was a film that would re-establish the band’s connection with their true fans and explore their own identity simultaneously. Vocalist and bassist for the band Roger Waters began work on the screenplay, with he and lead animator Gerald Scarfe producing a book of the screenplay and film’s art to present to the investors. New wave musician and frontman of the Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof was placed in the lead role, whilst Alan Parker, director of 1988s Mississippi Burning was set to direct. 

1982s Pink Floyd: The Wall was the result, a hypnotic, psychedelic trip into the spirit of the band’s eleventh studio album, fit with symbolic imagery illustrated by dark trippy animation. Depicting walking hammers, monstrous creatures and apocalyptic visions each working to metaphorically represent existential concepts of war and fascism, whilst serving the film’s loose plot following a rock star named Pink (Bob Geldoff) who is driven to insanity by the death of his father so puts up an emotional wall to protect himself. 

Despite the film’s critical acclaim, Alan Parker would later describe his time on the film as “one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life,” whilst Roger Waters noted that it was “a very unnerving and unpleasant experience”. The film’s legacy couldn’t differ more from these reports, with The Walls animation going down as one of the most creative and visionary pieces of dystopian media ever put to film. 

In true rock and roll fashion, the film premiered at Cannes during the midnight screening, with the production team taking two truckloads of audio equipment from the recording studios so that the film was showcased in all its glory. As Alan Parker recalls, “It was one of the last films to be shown in the old Palais which was pretty run down and the sound was so loud it peeled the paint off the walls. It was like snow – it all started to shower down and everyone had dandruff at the end”. 

Continuing, Parker remembers seeing Terry Semel, the head of Warner Bros sitting next to Steven Spielberg, “I’m sure I saw Steven Spielberg mouthing to him at the end when the lights came up, ‘what the fuck was that?’ And Semel turned to me and then bowed respectfully. ‘What the fuck was that?,’ indeed. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before – a weird fusion of live-action, story-telling and of the surreal”.

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