Our review of The Wall (2011), published November 9th, 2013, is also available.
We don't need no education.
A film that could define the word "surreal," it is a film representation of the Pink Floyd concept album "The Wall." The album was released in 1979, the film in 1982. It is a film that can be watched and enjoyed on many levels, with powerful imagery and a soundtrack that will make you take notice. On the other hand, it is a dour, often slow and somber film that has trouble with transition.
Before MTV rock and roll lovers flocked to midnight movies for the concert movie such as Song Remains the Same when they wanted images and music together. The Wall was another of those midnight movies I saw in the early '80s. Unlike the Zeppelin Classic or the Who's The Kids are Alright though, there was no concert footage with this one. Many have dismissed this film as a drug movie or long music video, but that does it a disservice. Besides containing the intricate lyrics of Roger Waters, the eclectic director Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, Evita) brought his own talents to telling a story which is in part autobiography and part biography, from Waters standpoint.
Though you can watch this as a long music video; and I feel this is about the only way a stoned person in a movie theater at midnight could watch it, delving deeper reveals a story told through imagery and music, with little dialogue to expose the intent. On a basic level, this is the story of Pink, last name Floyd, a famous rock star who is losing his mind. He spends most of his time gazing at an old British war movie in a lonely hotel room. Flashbacks reveal the past of Pink, adeptly portrayed by Bob Geldof, from Boomtown Rats fame. The autobiographical parts of The Wall come from Roger Waters past, and are revealed in the past of Pink. Pinks father is killed at Anzio in World War II, just as Waters' was. Pink's mother proceeds to overprotect and stifle him as a means of preserving what is left from his father. The famous school scenes are based on the stifling educational environment Waters remembers. Much of the rest of the movie is based on Water's recollections of Syd Barret, a former member of the band who became schizophrenic and had to retire. The degeneration of Pink's mind, the outward behavior shifts, is based on those. Other aspects of the plot are dramatizations of where the mind of Pink leads him on his trip to madness.
I took a great deal of time trying to decide how to proceed with telling the story of this esoteric film, and how to do something every other reviewer hadn't done. Since the story is mostly told in music, rather than dialogue, I decided to go through the songs as a means of progressing the story. This section is quite long, so I'll first tell you about the disc itself, for those who do not wish to wade through my interpretation of the story.
This disc is a very well done anamorphic transfer done in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While there is a bit of softness in the imaging here and there, a hint of color bleeding in a couple spots, blacks are inky, flesh tones are fleshy, there is no grain or edge enhancement issues, colors are bright in the live action fascist rally scenes, and the film is surprisingly free of nicks, scars, or other film imperfections. All in all, a fine transfer by Columbia. The audio is just as good, with a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The forward soundstage is broad and a bit forward. The surrounds don't get quite enough to do in my opinion, and the .1 LF channel is also used sparingly, but the music sounds great. Dialogue is rare but heard clearly enough. There are quite a few sounds in the background not really meant to be heard, but one nice feature I saw was that all those words could be read by using the subtitles, which appear in the black bar below the screen. Subtitles that don't take up valuable space within the film, I like that a lot. Lyrics also appear in these subtitles, another welcome addition. I also have a lot of praise for the extra content Columbia provided here. The menus are full motion with scenes from the film, and the setup allows speaker testing, pink noise generation for speaker balance, along with some handy tips for getting your surround system set up properly. There is a commentary track with animation designer Gerald Scarfe, Roger Waters, and a few bits by director Alan Parker. There are two documentaries, both lasting a half hour or so; one done shortly after the 1982 release, and the other done in two parts for the DVD release. Many of the people involved in the film were part of the Retrospective documentary, and I think this one is the most informative of anything on the disc. In addition, there is a music video for "Another Brick in the Wall" Part 2 in full frame, the theatrical trailer in full frame, behind the scenes stills, many storyboard animation pictures and sketches, and best of all, the missing reel of "Hey You" which was a great song, but taken out of the film for making it even longer and slower. It is shown in black and white but widescreen. The menus also allow you to go to song tracks within the film, though they don't show which scene goes with what song. You do have the choice of lyrics only or full subtitles with the song tracks. Now, on to the story:
The first song of the film is "When the Tigers Broke Free" Part 1, a song left off the album but brought back to expose the part of the film where you see Pink's father in a foxhole at Anzio. The father's death is foreshadowed.
It was just before dawn one miserable
We cut to Pink in his hotel room, where it is easily apparent all is not well. This exposes Pink's mental state to the audience and is the present-day bridge between his childhood scenes and his later fascist state. The first time you sit up and take notice of the 5.1 soundtrack comes as "In the Flesh" breaks in:
So ya, thought ya
We also see how people and the police react to one of Pink's shows, which contrasts with the charge at Anzio and the similarities between a rock concert and a Nazi style fascist rally. Interspersed here is the end of Pink's father, killed in his foxhole. We go back to Pink's hotel, where some very symbolic shots of him in crucifixion position in a pool, swimming in blood, and the last of the wartime footage accompanies "The Thin Ice" also symbolizing his mothers suffocating grasp.
Momma loves her baby, and daddy loves you too.
Again, a quick cut to the memorial of the Royal Fusiliers, his father's unit. Pink and his mother are there grieving for his father, when the familiar strains of "Another Brick in the Wall" fade in.
Daddy's flown across the ocean
Pink is obviously angry at his father for leaving him, with nothing but memories, and Pink goes on to look for a surrogate father without success. Pink later discovers his father's memorabilia and shows his grief and coping (or lack of) through the songs "When the Tigers Broke Free" Part 2, and "Goodbye Blue Skies" which also reveals Pink's pain and scars from the war, along with a more political treatise on the futility of warfare. The blood drains from the cross in the Union Jack and runs into a gutter, the wasted lives of good men. Here is the first disturbing and creative use of animation by Gerald Scarfe, co-creator of the film.
Did you see the frightened ones?
We move on to the films indictment of the educational system, which in Water's memory was filled with sadistic teachers who stultified all attempts at creativity, to create mindless clones only to be ultimately minced together into worm food. The most famous track of the album follows:
We don't need no education
These are truly powerful images, children being taken through the maze, along conveyor belts to the meat grinder.
The children ultimately riot, and you find yourself rooting for them as they burn down everything. Unfortunately, the riot is only in the mind of Pink, as the children docilely accept their fate.
What follows is the song "Mother" and gives a lot of clues as to why Pink is as messed up as he is. Obviously Mother has more than a few problems herself and has transferred them to Pink, along with suffocating him and making all his decisions along the way. Pink's difficulty relating to his wife and people in general are explained through this, with the only redeeming line being at the end when Pink asks "Mother did it need to be so high?" We are told explicitly here about the nature of the wall; that it is the alienation between Pink and the rest of the world, and also the alienation each of us feels. The end of the song has Pink calling home from an American concert late at night, and a man answers. He has discovered his wife's infidelity, which drives him even farther over the edge. "What Shall We Do Now?" and "The Empty Spaces" elaborates on this while showing animation of male and female flowers morphing into sexual organs and copulation. Pink's degeneration into madness is nearly complete. Buildings and material goods become the Wall, now surrounding the faceless masses, entrapping them. This is another song not released on the album, but brought back for the film.
Enter one of my favorite tracks of the album, "Young Lust" where we see groupies getting backstage at a Pink concert. Pink picks up one of the groupies, obviously trying to get back at his wife, or to forget. Pity the poor girl, played by Jenny Wright (St. Elmo's Fire, Young Guns II, Lawnmower Man) who goes back to his room, but instead of taking advantage of her, nearly kills her in the maniacal destruction of his hotel room. Apparently this has happened before, described as just "One of My Turns":
Day after day, love turns gray
While this event never happened, it is biographical of the extent of Syd Barret's mental collapse. The song "Don't Leave Me Now" is followed by "Another Brick in the Wall" Part 3 where Pink first wants to get his wife back but then decides the wall can be completed, as he needs nothing or no one. Pink's collapse is now complete. Pink's wife enters as a shadow and becomes a huge preying mantis to devour him.
I don't need no arms around me
Pink begins his transformation into a fascist leader in a painful scene of shaving his body hair. But first he is going to go delusional and then catatonic, requiring medical attention. "Nobody Home," "Vera," "Bring the Boys Back Home" and finally "Comfortably Numb" make a very long and slow transition during this phase. Pacing suffers greatly during this, and I would find myself yearning for things to move along. It is finally relieved when "Comfortably Numb" starts, and we see people actually trying to reach Pink with "Is there anybody in there?" as opposed to Pink asking, "Is there anybody out there?" In one of the more bizarre scenes amongst a lot of bizarre scenes, Pink gets transformed into the pink blob he is shown as in animation while being taken out of the hotel room. However, in the limo he rips off the pink cocoon and becomes the fascist leader in all his goose-stepping glory. An inescapable analogy is made here between the ability of a rock star to enthrall thousands and the ability of a Hitler to do the same. We're unable to tell whether this is a rock concert or a Nazi style rally, and the words of "In the Flesh" and the skinhead images shown here are disturbing to say the least. The racist remarks are not meant to be anything but an expose of how tyranny can affect the minds of followers, and the ability of a charismatic leader to create this change.
So ya, thought ya
As an aside, 390 real skinheads were used to film these sequences, and it was scary just how willing these folks were to accept this, and even take it at face value. "In the Flesh" is immediately followed by "Run Like Hell" and "Waiting for the Worms," a trilogy of tyranny. The hammers become the force of oppression, and the symbol of beating down opposition.
At this point, Pink realizes the damage he has done, and feels the guilt of his actions. He cries out "Stop!" and again becomes nearly catatonic. In his mind, his guilt forces a trial, done in animation to "The Trial." The culmination of the film really occurs here. First he is indicted by the schoolmaster who says he can "hammer him today" to get him into shape.
Pink's wife also blames him and asks the judge for revenge. Predictably his mother defends him, and wants to shelter him within her arms, as shown above. The judge, depicted nastily as the posterior of a man, who talks out of his rear orifice, passes sentence. The sentence is to tear down the wall that hides and shelters him from the rest of the world. You have to hope that Pink will be able to redeem and regain himself on the outside; hopes are not high as during the trial he is depicted as a rag doll, completely devoid of will. The film ends with children cleaning up the aftermath of war, and a child dumping out the contents of a Molotov Cocktail. "Outside the Wall" finishes the film with the refrain:
All alone, or in twos,
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While in many ways you could say this is an important film, with a lot to say, many times I thought it just slowed down too much. The tone of the film remains dour, downbeat, and tragic throughout, without any letup. There are no redeeming characters in the film, unless you count Pink himself, who is insane. I'm glad I took the time to analyze the film, and finally understand it, as much as it can be understood, but I almost prefer it as a long music video. One small complaint I have is with the commentary track, which didn't go far enough into explaining what the different images meant; something I think would have been invaluable for the viewer. It took me hours to analyze the film, and even then you're getting my opinion rather than the vision of Roger Waters and Alan Parker. The commentary was entertaining and worthwhile, despite this. Again, my last complaint is having the ability to go to a song track but not see the track you're trying to reach. You just have to remember the numerical order they come in. Even the liner doesn't give the list of songs.
If you are a fan of the film or Pink Floyd, jump on this disc. You'll never see it better or hear it better, even off CD. In fact, this one is worth a try for anyone. Recommended. Oh, one last minute addition…by hitting 9 on your remote keypad inside the menus you can get various quotes from the movie to play, a nice little Easter egg.
The filmmakers, especially Roger Waters, are acquitted, as is Columbia Music Video, the release studio. This is a fitting tribute to a groundbreaking combination of film and music.
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