With the creative collaboration of Roger Waters, director Alan Parker and animation director Gerald Scarfe, Pink Floyd - The Wall does more than merely set music to imagery – it goes as far as creating something altogether transcendent. More than 30 years later, even if you don’t understand what it all means, its constant march of artistic montages continues to deliver a poetic mixture of social commentary and a tangible feeling of despair.
- Director: Alan Parker, Gerald Scarfe
- Writer: Roger Waters
- Cast: Bob Geldof, Christine Hargreaves, Eleanor David, Alex McAvoy, Bob Hoskins
Depicting a rock star (Bob Geldof) whose disdain for life is spinning out of control, Pink Floyd – The Wall is a surreal journey exploring the tortured mind of someone grappling with his environment. In other words, here is a visceral exercise illustrating a mind on the cusp of saying goodbye to a cruel world.
Just as the album that inspired it, The Wall brings together a variety of elements to create an unforgettable experience. Each frame feels carefully executed and its pacing feels perfectly synced with its soundtrack. From the opening long take in a hallway, a long dolly shot immediately establishes a sense of a unsettling anticipation. But anticipation of what? Like the famous expressionistic painting of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, almost any image from The Wall evokes a comparable sense of agonized disillusionment. In addition to strong directing and sound design, Peter Biziou’s photography is striking, making use of dark shadows and highly pronounced lighting to create moments of near dystopian horror. Alan Parker achieves and maintains a strong sense of mood, making good use of smoke, set design and various visual effects. In addition to great sound design, artistic editing choices also succeed in evoking strong emotional response from its viewers. Take for instance a series of repeated cuts showing us our protagonist swimming in a pool of blood early in the film. Shots such as this draw attention to the experimental nature of The Wall, essentially using editing techniques resourcefully to supplement mood.
Often disturbing though always captivating, clever metaphoric visuals provide great fodder for discussion and interpretation. Take for instance the transformation of bomber planes into crosses, the playful and yet semi-violent interaction of flowers resembling sexual intercourse, young students on conveyor belts, and the personification of hammers marching in synchronized formation. These images and configurations not only become entrenched in our minds, they become at once representations of our most pressing societal concerns. Sometimes with amazing set design and sometimes with edgy animation that seemed ahead of its time in its daring nature, The Wall is an engaging mind trip. For this reason, it is not surprising that multiple generations have taken to it. The set involving students on conveyor belts is one of the film’s most famous scenes, serving as a masterful demonstration on how images can be used to make powerful statements. Throughout, the fictionalized display of fascism is gripping in its ability to reinforce the film’s anti-institutional sentiments. The film itself works as a slap in the face to anyone anywhere who at any point in time has tried to suppress the ability to think as an individual.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
With a great album as its source material, even if all you got was a mediocre cinematic effort, a decently entertaining experience would seem pretty much guaranteed. But what we get is so much more. There is something amusingly defiant about a metaphorical film that includes a scene in which a teacher picks on a student for writing poetry. It’s great to see this rock opera elevating Roger Water’s poetic lyrics on a visual level. Coming several years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is interesting to note the relevance it seemed to have years after its release and still today. As Ebert’s review reminds us, there is so much being explore here – “sex, nuclear disarmament, the agony of warfare, childhood feelings of abandonment, the hero’s deep unease about women, and the life style of a rock star at the end of his rope.” Mr. Ebert is correct is also pointing out that while the film is not necessarily “enjoyable”, due to its disturbing content, it is nevertheless a fantastic piece of art for us to appreciate.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Pink Floyd – The Wall? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Rocco and his Brothers
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Alan Parker and Gerald Scarfe’s Pink Floyd – The Wall this week, he now has 349 under his belt and less than 15 films left to go.