Pink Floyd: The Wall

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Sony Music
Cast: Bob Geldof
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Theatrical trailer and production stills, Music Video and more

Before MTV and the advent of music videos, rock & roll fans had to make do with movies featuring their favorite acts. These ranged from the fun romps like The Beatles’ "A Hard Day’s Night", to psychedelic trips as in The Beatles’ "Yellow Submarine", or, more typically, concert films such as The Rolling Stones’ "Gimme Shelter" or Led Zeppelin’s "The Song Remains the Same." And then we have 1982’s "Pink Floyd: The Wall", which doesn’t really fit into any category. Alan Parker’s concept film based on a concept album based on the mind of Roger Waters has stirred controversy since its release. The film is loved by a "midnight movie" cult crowd, misunderstood by many, and branded a "drug film" by others. No matter what you label it, "The Wall" is quite a visual experience and the newly released Columbia Music Video DVD of "The Wall" presents the ultimate viewing experience of the film.

The film "Pink Floyd: The Wall" is based on the album of the same name. Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters took the experiences that inspired the album "The Wall" and wrote them down in script form. Then, collaborating with director Alan Parker and political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (who served as production designer on Disney’s "Hercules"), the three created a unique and disturbing film that ignores standard narrative storytelling. Instead, the story is told through the songs of Pink Floyd and the startling visuals created by Parker and Scarfe.

"Pink Floyd: The Wall" tells the story of Pink (played by a pre-Live Aid Bob Geldof), a rock star who has locked himself in his hotel room, away from the world. As Pink sits in his chair, in front of a flickering television, he reminisces about his life and the events that caused him to isolate himself. The wall of the title refers to the boundary that Pink has created to separate himself from other people.

Pink’s story is told through a series of flashbacks. We first see that his father died on the battlefield in World War II. We see that a young Pink (Kevin McKeon) is raised by his mother, but longs for a father figure in his life. We then see Pink in school, where he is demeaned by the teacher. The school system is presented as an assembly line, thus presenting the song "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2".

The story then jumps ahead to Pink’s present life. He is on tour, but misses his wife. He suspects that she is having an affair and this idea only drives him deeper into isolation. Each of these events, causes Pink to add another brick to "the wall" that he has surrounded himself with in order to keep the world at bay. Pink’s attempts to party with a groupie end in disaster, which only drives him farther into his despair, and causes him to begin to self-mutilate. As the movie spirals to a finale, Pink’s search goes inward, as he tries to break down the wall.

While that description of the plot of "The Wall" may sound straight-forward and easy to follow, the way in which the story is presented is very unique. As I mentioned earlier, the narrative is presented not through classic acting and dialogue, but rather through message-laden images and music. We see these events happening to Pink, but the characters never step forward and say, "Pink misses his Dad." or "Pink doesn’t trust his wife." It is through the imagery and music that we learn these things. The amount of actual dialogue in the film is minimal. As the music plays such a vital role in the film, those who are missing that gene which allows people to understand rock lyrics may have a bit of a problem following the story. "Pink Floyd: The Wall" has long been regarded as a film for which one must be drunk or stoned to understand. Personally, I think one must be stone cold sober just to have any idea of what is going on in the film. But, still I’m those people who like to "experiment" enjoy all of the pretty colors.

Speaking of the pretty colors, the thing that makes "Pink Floyd: The Wall" so unique is the animation by Gerald Scarfe. The majority of the most famous images from the film, the screaming face, the walking hammers, and the giant creature that appears to be talking out of its… um… nether regions (I wonder if this inspired Ace Ventura?), are taken from the animated segments of the film. Scarfe disturbing images were created using different mediums, such as chalk and crayon. While Scarfe’s work is rarely subtle, such as the Union Jack which turns into a bleeding cross, or the two flowers that morph into a couple having sex, they definitely pack a punch and add another level to an already deep film.

While Bob Geldof’s musical contributions to the world may be questionable, his acting turn in "Pink Floyd: The Wall" is very impressive. Without the benefit of dialogue and being able to tell us how he feels, Geldof is forced to use facial expressions and physical gestures to convey his misery. As Pink goes through his transformation, Geldof’s acting becomes more intense. At first, we see Pink sitting in his chair, nearly catatonic, but he becomes much more frenzied as the film progresses.

Kudos must also go to director Alan Parker for pulling the whole thing off. "Pink Floyd: The Wall" tells an epic story in a very unique way. The film has some massive sets (the school maze, being a good example), as well as the realistically staged war sequences. Parker is able to pull off these scenes with their grand scale, but also manages to bring across the sad, poignant story of Pink.

Columbia Music Video has labeled their DVD of "Pink Floyd: The Wall" a "Deluxe Edition", and this time, the advertising is correct. The film is presented in its <$PS,letterboxed> format and has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The DVD features a new hi-definition transfer taken from the original <$PS,widescreen> interpositive, and the result looks great. The picture is very clear, with some very subtle grain appearing at times. The color balancing has been handled well, and the blacks appear as true black. The framing of the picture appears to be accurate as there is no immediate deficit of information at the top or bottom of the screen. To put it simply, this is the best that "The Wall" has ever looked.

The audio mix on "Pink Floyd: The Wall" is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 that truly does justice to the film, and more importantly, the music. The sound is very clear and well-balanced, as the World War II explosions are no louder than the crescendos in the music. No scrambling for the volume control here. There is plenty of action in the surround sound, especially during the battle sequences. The DVD includes a special feature that will guide the viewer through setting up their surround sound system. This shows diagrams of how the speakers should be positioned and allows for speaker and pink noise testing. This is a very nice added feature, and very important for a film like this. But also the majestically mixed music of Pink Floyd vastly benefits from the surround experience, creating a sound imagery that allows the listener to dive right into it.

As this is a true "Deluxe Edition", it’s loaded with special features. There is an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring Roger Waters and Gerald Scarfe. This offers a feature that I don’t think I’ve seen (or heard) before. At the beginning, it’s made obvious that Waters is coming from the left speaker and Scarfe is coming from the right. That way, you always know who’s talking (as their accents do sound similar). I wish that other commentaries featured that! While they often get off of the subject (Waters goes on and on about child molesters and why boys shouldn’t be made to wear short trousers!), the pair offer a great deal of insight into the inspirations for the film and how these were brought to life. A touching moment comes when Waters skirts the issue of how his personal bout with his wife’s infidelity led to the same thing happening to Pink in the film.

There are two "behind the scenes" features on the disc. The first is entitled "The Other Side of The Wall". This 25-minute 1982 documentary offers a great deal of footage from the set of the film. It shows how the orchestral scoring was done, Scarfe at work in his studio, as well as action from the set. It also features interviews with all of the principal players. Unfortunately, "The Other Side of The Wall" looks awful. It appears that the behind the scenes footage was shot on film, but was not cleaned up for this presentation. It’s amazing to go from the fuzzy, distorted clips of "Pink Floyd: The Wall" presented here to the actual DVD movie. It makes you appreciate how well the DVD transfer looks.

The second feature is a new documentary is entitled "Retrospective". "Retrospective" is about 45 minutes long and is presented in two parts. This features new interviews with Roger Waters, Alan Parker, Gerald Scarfe and many other that were involved with the film. Besides recapping the influences for the film and telling anecdotes about the making of "The Wall", the interviewees also reflect on what "The Wall" meant to them in 1982 as opposed to now. They discuss the success of the film and the way that it has been interpreted. It’s nice that Roger Waters is so nice and upbeat in discussing the film considering how his Pink Floyd band mates have treated him over the past decade.

The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer for the film. There is also the music video for "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2", which, like documentary, pales in presentation when compared to the new transfer of "The Wall". There are production stills from the film. There is also a nice feature that lets you choose a scene not by content, but by song.

While I must admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Pink Floyd (their music is just too mellow for my taste), I do enjoy "Pink Floyd: The Wall." The film is a truly artistic vision that shows the proper way to meld movies with music. The new DVD of "The Wall" is a crowning achievement, offering a nearly perfect transfer of the film and many goodies as well. If you are a fan of "The Wall", this is a must have. If you are a novice, or have seen the movie before but weren’t sure about it, give this DVD a try. The visuals and audio alone must it a DVD that must be seen to be believed.