Magazine article American Cinematographer

Notes on Pink Floyd the Wall

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Notes on Pink Floyd the Wall

Article excerpt

PINK FLOYD THE WALL is a nightmarish vision of life as experienced by an English rock musician. It is a unique film in many respects. A major studio release that is reported to have cost $10 million, it does not have a conventional plot or even any conventional dialogue. It is an adaptation of a rock album, but the rock group Pink Floyd never appears on screen. It is a highly personal, semi-autobiographical statement, and yet it is a collaborative work involving several individuals with distinct styles and personalities.

The film is structured around a series of scenes depicting Pink, a rock star ensconced in a hotel room and undergoing what might be called a nervous breakdown. The film explores his consciousness with flashbacks and fantasy sequences using animation as well as live action, much of which has a surreal quality. Although the film may be disorienting to a viewer expecting a conventional story or plot, there is a logic to the structure. In terms of the information conveyed in the flashbacks there is a general chronological progression starting with the death of Pink's father in World War II progressing through Pink's childhood to his marriage and his career as a rock musician. Images from the flashbacks and fantasies associated with the flashbacks recur throughout the film often in the form of variations which augment the significance of the initial image.

The wall, which is the central image of the film, represents the alienation which isolates Pink from others and from his own emotions. It has been built up gradually throughout his life by various forms of repression until Pink has reached a point of total isolation. His violence as he destroys the furnishings of his hotel room seems to be a desperate attempt to break through the wall. There is an animation sequence in which the wall is destroyed but the overall impact of the film is not a sense of liberation but of imprisonment. The climax of the film is a vision of a rock concert as a fascist rally with Pink as the leader of faceless masses of followers. This vision expresses both Pink's contempt for his audience and his own self-loathing. It is followed by an animated fantasy sequence of a trial in which Pink essentially places his life on trial and his conflict with society is acted out internally.

Pink Floyd is a rock group consisting of Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and David Gilmour. The group was originally formed in 1965 and was the first group in England to use light shows as part of their concerts. They have enjoyed a popularity and longevity perhaps rivaled only by The Rolling Stones and The Who, with their 1973 album "Dark Side of the Moon" selling over 17 million copies. Their concerts have become increasingly theatrical and spectacular with extensive use of slides and film as well as lights and special effects. They have also scored several films including ZABRISKIE POINT and LA VALLEE.

The album "The Wall" was released in 1979 and has sold almost 12 million copies. All the lyrics for the double album were written by Roger Waters as an attempt to come to terms with the alienation he felt from his audiences. Self-examination led him through the personal relationships in his life back to his childhood experiences and the result was a series of autobiographical songs expressing his sense of the repressive forces which shaped his personality and resulted in the isolation he felt. Even from the beginning he saw the potential for a film in the material, and as soon as he had demo tapes of the songs he began discussions with Gerald Scarfe about animated sequences to be used first in concerts and ultimately in a film. Scarfe is a cartoonist and satirist whose drawings have been featured in Punch and the London Sunday Times. He had done an animated film for the BBC and an animated sequence for the concerts based on Pink Floyd's 1975 album "Wish You Were Here." He began work almost immediately on a sequence illustrating "The Trial," one of the songs for The Wall album. …

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