Over the last eighteen months, we’ve adjusted to the sight of a band performing in an empty venue and to watching it from the comfort of our own homes. Like surround sound and acid-rock, Pink Floyd were pioneers of this too, when they brought their arresting live show to the ancient fallen city of Pompeii in 1971.
Pink Floyd approached making a concert film with the identical modus operandi that they applied to everything. They refused to do what all the other artists were doing and tread a path that would frighten the living daylights out of their contemporaries. Going against the grain is what they did best, but playing a concert in Pompeii was deemed radical by Pink Floyd’s standards.
The idea to perform in Pompeii derived from the young and ambitious French director Adrian Maben. He was an obsessive fan of their work and originally pitched a film that would blend Pink Floyd’s music with paintings, which understandably was rejected by their management.
Maben didn’t give up the idea of combing the music of Pink Floyd and film. During the summer of 1971, he travelled around Italy and stumbled upon Pompeii. From the moment that his eyes caught the ancient city’s majesty, he knew that this was the perfect backdrop for a cinematic Pink Floyd performance.
“It was the silence, it was the nighttime, it was eerie – this is the place the Pink Floyd have got to be,” he later told Classic Rock. Adding: “I found their music fantastic and different compared to other groups. You had all the little whispers, and the noises, and the shrieking. It was a different world, and that different world was absolutely fascinating.”
The band agreed to head to Pompeii later in the year to film and bring their alchemic sound to the forgotten city. However, Maben still needed to get the green light from the relevant authorities to allow the concert to occur. He spoke with Ugo Carputi, a professor of ancient history at Naples University who somehow convinced Haroun Tazieff, the Soprintendenza who controlled the grounds, to give Pink Floyd permission.
They finally came to a compromise, and Tazieff gave the concert the go-ahead after Carputi promised that there would be no fans in attendance. The lack of fans ended up being a masterstroke and set Live At Pompeii apart from any other concert film.
“It’s just us playing a load of tunes in the amphitheatre with some rather Top Of The Pops-ish shots of us walking around the top of Vesuvius and things like that,” Roger Waters said around the film’s release. “I think Pink Floyd freaks would enjoy it.”
The focus was solely on the band, and it created an immersive experience for those viewing it at home, or in theatres. The idyllic surroundings juxtaposed with Pink Floyd’s expansive sound proved to be a perfect match, cultivating to forge a masterpiece and helped cement their legacy.
After its release, the film toured theatres spreading the word of Pink Floyd far and wide. It increased anticipation for their next album, and when Dark Side Of The Moon arrived in 1973, the group achieved deity status.
Live At Pompeii captured the spirit of Pink Floyd and provided something more than what music lovers had grown accustomed to from concert films. It set a frighteningly high new benchmark, forced other artists to look at obscure settings rather than being lazy, and remains one of the all-time definitive classics of its genre.