Revisiting ‘Monsieur René Magritte’, a film by Adrian Maben starring Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters
“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak,” wrote André Breton, the founder of the surrealist movement and a friend of the Belgian artist René Magritte. This is exactly what Magritte achieves in his art, combining the reality of commonplace objects with unusual contexts, creating a beautiful “surreality”. He challenges what is supposed to be real by insisting that the imaginary is just as important.
In 1978, Adrian Maben made a 50-minute documentary as a tribute to the famous painter. It explored the middle-class life he leads and the very real surroundings from which Magritte concocted the surreal. It also featured a lot of unique sounds by Roger Waters, some of which he would employ in Pink Floyd’s more famous works. This wasn’t the only collaboration that Maben had with Pink Floyd as he is also the director of the brilliant 1972 documentary, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, which presents footage of the legendary band performing at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii.
In an interview which was conducted shortly after Live at Pompeii came out, Maben recalled, “I didn’t know any of the Pink Floyd… I talked to David (Gilmour), and to Stephen O’Rourke (manager of Pink Floyd), about paintings by Magritte, by De Chirico, and contemporary painters like Christo, or even Jean Tinguely. I said maybe we could do something which would be a marriage between their music and the paintings of these painters or sculptors. In retrospect, I think that was an embarrassingly bad idea and would have been terrible. David Gilmour was kind and said, ‘Yes, how interesting. We’ll think about it.’ And then we each went our own way.”
However, that’s exactly what Maben did for his 1978 work Monsieur Rene Magritte. It combined the other-worldly vision of Magritte with Water’s trippy, experimental music. Even some of the famous Pink Floyd covers over the years have been influenced by Magritte’s paintings. Storm Thorgerson himself admitted that the Wish You Were Here album cover was inspired by the Belgian surrealist. Magritte has influenced a lot of acclaimed filmmakers over the years as well, including illustrious names like Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci and Terry Gilliam.