Pink Floyd’s The Wall is an almost faultless album, one which depicts the story of a burnt-out rockstar who has turned his back on civilisation and becomes a recluse, a theme which is symbolised metaphorically by the wall itself. The songs attempt to create a storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink, who, on paper, sounds like it would make the perfect transformation into film. The reality of the situation, however, was a completely different story and one which was destined to be a disaster from the very start.
Even before the Pink Floyd album was recorded there was already a plan to turn the highly-anticipated record into a feature film—but the intention was very different from the reality. The Floyd originally planned for the movie to be made up of live footage taken from the album’s tour which, in turn, would site alongside animation provided by Gerald Scarfe and for Waters himself to star as Pink. However, EMI couldn’t understand the film and instead decided against making it—but that didn’t stop the band pressing ahead with the idea to create a motion picture.
Pink Floyd members are notoriously driven and their artistic vision doesn’t bend to many people. The band, however, enlisted the acclaimed director Alan Parker to take up the reins on this project, The opportunity for Parker to work with the prog-rock legends was one he wouldn’t miss but also one that he would later come to regret. To work with the globally recognised stars of Pink Floyd seemed like a prospect that was impossible to turn down.
Once Parker arrived to work on the feature film, he immediately grew to rue his decision. Roger Waters was supposed to play the role of Pink, a character that he created and had a clear vision of but, after screen tests, it became clear that he wasn’t fit for the role which, bizarrely, led to Bob Geldof playing the protagonist even though he too was reluctant to be involved. The Boomtown Rats mand did however eventually sign on for the role of Pink.
It seemed that every day there was mountable tension on the set between Roger Waters and animator Gerald Scarfe. The pair found themselves in constant warfare, a contributing factor to what made Parker’s role as director almost impossible. The director later said, “The making of the film was too miserable an exercise for me to gain any pleasure looking back at the process. Three megalomaniacs in a room, it’s amazing we achieved anything.”
Parker’s words act as the perfect summary of the whole process, one in which there was no way that the three stubborn characters — who each had their own vision of the film — could ever arrive on the same page or, even simply, come to any form of civilised running of the project. Unsurprisingly, the result meant that the film was without a coherent story or structure. “We all thought it was a load of old tosh,” Parker later said before admitting that Waters mainly got his way and remains “the only person in the whole world who actually knows what it’s all about.”
Even though Waters may be the only person in the world who understands what the film is about, that doesn’t mean he is a fan of the final product and, in 1992, he honestly stated: “The film gets so odd, I don’t know what I’d call it,” something which suggests that even he is dumbstruck at the film’s plotline.
Animator Gerald Scarfe was so distressed and anxious about going into work every day that he even turned to the bottle despite previously being not much of a drinker. His hip-flask of whiskey became his best friend during the filming and he would make sure to have a large gulp before work started in the morning just to take the edge off.
Another misjudged error was made when creating the film when a decision process which led to the casting of an actual mob of violent skinheads called the ‘Tilbury Skins’. It should come as no surprise that inviting 380 far-right thugs on to a film set is going to cause disastrous results. They got themselves suitably oiled up on beer and had already caused distress to locals in pubs with their behaviour before they arrived on set.
Alan Parker job had gone from being a director to being a minder of a run of detestable characters, later explaining that he had to “stop them from being bored and stop them from kicking everybody’s head in. You always wonder as a film director, if you might be crossing a line when you actually get people to do things that are not very pleasant.”
Bob Geldof was offered the role, which he initially baulked at during a cab ride with his agent, a time in which he talked about his disdain of Pink Floyd’s music but, little did he know, the driver of the taxi was by, sheer coincidence, Roger Waters’ brother. After some convincing, Geldof later took the job but his heart was never truly in the project and, in truth, it shows.
The film is perhaps the only notable misstep in the whole of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters’ career, a dramatic failure to recreate the same magic that exists in the stage show — which remains, without doubt, the finest way to consume The Wall.