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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Pink Floyd The Wall - 1982

This film is a unique blend of live action, animation and surrealism. It's narrative is unlimited by normal constraints and the film is loaded with symbolic imagery. All this is accompanied by Pink Floyd's music taken from the album of the same name upon which this film was based.
Alan Parker directs and firmly cements his reputation in my opinion as a talented but often overlooked film maker, surely the director of such films as Angel Heart, Mississipi Burning and The Commitments (I really need to see Angela's Ashes, Midnight Express and Birdy) deserves far more recognition. In fact, he deserves recognition for his work on this film alone is enough for him to be known as an excellent director.
Roger Waters wrote most of the screenplay as well as the songs used.
Gerald Scarfe, A British caricaturist, directs the animation sequences.
Bob Geldof stars as the titular character, Pink Floyd.

This is a film that I had heard about briefly a couple of times but had never really seen it mentioned as one of the greatest films ever or even see it get high ratings and positive reviews from critics and audiences.
Thus watching it wasn't really a top priority for me, but when I did finally get around to it I was so amazed, at the greatness of the film and at my stupidity for not having watched it sooner, that I was speechless.

Note: Before reading my review, which is quite in-depth, you may want to watch the entire film which can be found on Youtube. 
Warning, the film does contain a considerable amount of violence and nudity as well as obvious sexual symbolism and some quite revolting scenes. The overall atmosphere is almost unbearably intense.

The Wall is the perfect Cult Classic.
It is very much representative of it's time and yet has aged admirably. Thankfully the budget was relatively large (12 million dollars worth I believe) so the film has a polished, well funded feel to it that avoids it from becoming a cult classic that one watches just to see how bad special effects were "in those days" or to see how far Cinema has come, no The Wall isn't one of those films at all, it's a timeless masterpiece and an important film that all film buffs should watch at least once.

I suppose I should explain what this film is about:
As I mentioned before it is based on the album of the same name by the English band Pink Floyd (who, like most other excellent bands, are becoming lost culture to the young generations), it's narrative is very loose and deals with all the various and at times conflicting aspects of one man's personality, it is a particularly excellent character study.
This character is Mr. Pink Floyd, apparently the band personified. The film shows as his past, his present, his future, his fears, his fantasies, his memories and his emotions.
But of course all this isn't in a well ordered succession of scenes, the human being doesn't work that way, instead we hurtle through this man consciousness and sometimes sub-consciousness at an exhausting rate, going back and forth between various aspects of his personality. The narrative structure of this film may seem muddled at first but I can assure you that once the film is over and you reflect upon what you have just experienced, you will realise that this film was meticulously thought out and is possessed of a genius narrative structure. For near the end we come to realise that most of the film took place in Pink's mind, while he lay, agonizing, in his hotel room watching the Dam Busters.

On a sidenote, I couldn't help but think of Inception while watching this film. But I didn't think of it in a good way, I thought to myself : This is how a film that takes place in someone's mind should look like. No well ordered landscapes and various rules to abide by, just pure creative chaos. This is something Nolan completely failed to capture or purposefully left out in an attempt to make his film appeal to the mediocrity (which it did). But in my opinion, it offers nothing new or particularly interesting as to how the Mind is depicted in film, Luis Bunuel and David Lynch offer far more thought provoking dream sequences. Not to mention Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky.
And now back to the review:

 It has been said before but I'll say it again, Pink Floyd The Wall is one of the best portrayals of alienation I have ever seen put on film. In particular of the alienation of a man blessed, or cursed as the case may be in this film, with creativity. Along with this creativity comes a sensitivity which in turn makes him far more vulnerable to the hardships of our modern world, the things that are considered normal, or are not ever considered at all, such as the teaching systems.
It is a known fact that poets, musicians, writers etc. are far more likely to commit suicide and be depressed than "normal people". In this film we are shown all the combined factors that made this man's life practically impossible for him to live, the death of his father at a young age, the strict teachers who did not encourage his creativity, the overbearing mother, the doctors, the wife who fails to understand just what is wrong with him and instead abandons him, the manager who doesn't care for him as a person but as a source of profit, the list goes on.
The film does not shy away from showing us some of the most painful moments of this man's existence, in fact it concentrates on them, apparently this man's whole existence has been painful.
Thus he turns to drugs, apathy, television, any thing to numb his emotions (hence the song "Comfortably Numb, which is particularly excellent) but when his emotions are aroused again, such as in the scene with the female fan, he finds himself unable to control them and falls prey to a burst of destructive rage, which can be seen as rage against how his whole life has turned out.
Then he succumbs to apathy and complete ignorance of his emotions, and then through this controlled, brain dead state, he descends into insanity, but his manager and others inject him with drugs causing him to transform into a completely different person (the transformation itself is extremely well done and gruesome, but naturally takes place entirely in Pink's mind and is entirely symbolic), this new person bears striking similarities to Hitler.
Hate rules supreme, and courses through him and his many followers, they strike out at those that are different from them and eventually devolve into a faceless mass, similar to the process the children underwent at school. But all this happens during his Rock concert, in his state of drug induced hallucination all he saw was a Fascist rally, with himself as the Dictator. (Interesting fact, the extra's used to play the Fascist crowd were in fact actual Neo-Nazis.)
The music declares "You cannot reach me know", he is to far gone in his insanity and depression that his alienation from the rest of society has transformed into hate for the rest of society.

The End is the most complex part of the film by far and I don't just mean the final scene (which is in itself highly ambiguous) but the various montages and scenes leading up to it., including the scene in which he puts himself on trial.
I personally think Pink freed himself from The Wall, he burst through it as he comes to the realisation that "all in all you were all just bricks in the wall" and thus sees the big picture instead of concentrating on each individual tragedy, but then the Wall crumbles. Does Pink die? did he kill himself ? after all wasn't that the only way to escape from his confinement?

The symbolism in this film is quite extraordinary, especially during the animated sequences. Of course there is The Wall itself, which works as a symbol for the alienation Pink feels from the rest of society. There are also the fantastically animated sequences that deal with WWII, but more on that subject later.
The symbolism was at time rather glaring and obvious, such as the massive arse on legs that appears during the trial sequence.
The fact that The Worm is used as a symbol throughout the film is interesting, it represents something evil and destructive to Pink, something that gnaws away at his sanity, but that comes from the interior instead of the exterior as is the case with those that make up the Wall.

I previously mentioned WWII, you might be wondering what that conflict has to do with the life of a rocker. Well, one must remember that Pink lost his father in the War, and thus it had a profound impact on his life, but all this is shown perfectly towards the beginning of the film, so was the animated sequence showing the Blitz in very symbolic terms really necessary? (note: the symbolic terms I mentioned are those such as the black eagle representing the Reich, ripping holes out of London represents the bombing etc...) I do think it was necessary not only to really understand the times Pink grew up in but modern post war society as a whole. For while the film deals primarily with Pink and his troubles, it also offers a particularly astute look at society and criticises it in sometimes surprisingly strong terms using the soundtrack.

Now I just love a film with a great and iconic soundtrack. The Wall is based on the album of the same name by Pink Floyd and thus it has excellent music (of course you have to like Pink Floyd's music, if you don't there is really no point watching in this film), and the mostly isn't only excellent it is also present throughout practically the whole film.
The story is told through the music, the dialogue is kept to a minimum. But what amazing music, I know this isn't a music review but still I must mention how talented Pink Floyd were, truly one of the best bands ever. But sadly another piece of culture that is forgotten by the younger generations...Such things depress me, I seem to come back to this subject over and over, but I'll mention more on it some other time.

The most famous song of the album is undoubtedly the title track "The Wall" in three parts, but the second part is by far the most famous, this is the one that plays during the school time and the words "You're just another brick in the wall" destined towards the teacher, are symbolic, they mean that the teacher is partly responsible for the unbreakable Wall of alienation and depression that sets in around Pink, but they are not the only ones responsible, take for example Pink's Mother and the track "Mother", which states "Mothers going to help to build the Wall".
I have never seen music put to such a extensive narrative use in a film before, it really is what makes the film great, but it isn't the only remarkable aspect, I think Bob Geldof's performance deserves a lot of praise as well.

Bob Geldof is the only actor worth noting in the entire film, his performance is crucial to the success of the whole film and must surely have been a challenging one, and yet he doesn't disappoint, in fact he gives one of the best performances I've ever seen.
He perfectly captures the character of the alienated rock musician, he doesn't say anything but his expression say more than words could possibly describe, it is one of the most heartfelt performances I've ever seen and it moved me to near-tears many times. I know he wasn't a professional actor but he surely was better than most actors of his time. He gave an unforgettable performance.

The animation is especially worthy of mention. The images were simple yet colourful and often scary. Especially the one displayed while "Goodbye Blue Sky" is playing (see the following image), this drastically increases the already powerful effect of the songs played, it really is well done. 

The animation is quite complex and in constant motion, the aspect I really liked was the fact that many elements were in continuous change, unable to keep one form for too long. As well as the excellent use of colour.
Some sequences could be described as psychedelic, not that I have ever taken any such drugs, and are fitting with the film as drugs are a large part of the story and much of the film takes place in Pink's mind.
All in all it adds up to about fifteen minutes of animation masterfully done by Gerald Scarfe and his whole team, a remarkable achievement.
My favourite piece of animation is easily the segment that commences at about 37 minutes in. It is a first disturbingly sexual, but it quickly becomes one of the most eye opening pieces of film I've ever seen, before watching this I never knew someone had put such strong and rebellious ideas on film before, it's look at our depressingly materialistic society is even more relevant today than ii was in the early 80's. It is packed full of beautiful imagery, as the Wall sweeps past everything, it turns flowers into barbed wire, babies into fascist, destroys cathedrals all while the track "Empty Spaces" plays. Even if you don't watch the entire film, you must at least see this! It's mind-blowing really.... These pieces of music are so interesting one could write whole reviews of them alone.

Overall, Pink Floyd The Wall is a masterpiece in a vast amount of ways. Some of which I didn't even mention in this review, it seems every scene brings something new and thought provoking, essays could be written on this film. It is the definitive "Rock Film".
I highly recommend it.
But this is not a film anyone will enjoy, being a fan of Pink Floyd isn't enough to guarantee ones enjoyment. Those wanting something comprehensible and not "too experimental" will be disappointed, but those with an eye for Cinema will surely recognise this as the Cinematic masterpiece it is. For however great the music is, however talented the animation team is, however fantastic Bob Geldof is, the film would still not have been great if it wasn't for Alan Parker holding all these individual elements together in tough conditions and succeeding to make such a wonderful film.
Having said that though, not everyone did recognise it, even amongst those with an eye for Cinema. Maybe it's the films refusal to be put into one category, it's rebelliousness, it's intensity, it's delirious journey through nightmares that put people off, I don't know...
It has had a massive impact on me as a person, something which few films ever have. Maybe because I myself am of depressive temperament or because I'm rather young and still in my formative years and such things can have influences into how I grow into a adult and come into the full extent of my own creativity. 
Whatever the reason, I certainly have found one of my all time favourites!

Sadly though, this films final form didn't please the band much at all. Throughout the production there had been an enormous clash of ego's in between Alan Parker, Roger Waters, Gerald Scarfe and Bob Geldof. Parker nearly walked out of the project many times, Roger Waters was displeased that Geldof starred as he had wanted the role for himself, and Bob Geldof often brought much of his own personality into the film, even though he was only the actor.
The production was made even harder by the nature of the film itself, with caused all those involved to fall out in some way or another.
But I think that the troubled origins of the film perfectly fit it's subject matter, after all the production of such a searing, depressing, intense and emotional film could not help but have an effect on those working on it.

Check out Roger Ebert's review, it is one of his particularly excellent ones and we are in complete agreement.

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