Reviews: Roger Waters The Wall

Roger Waters The Wall is in limited theatrical release and we've experienced it!

It’s no secret Pink Floyd’s landmark 1979 album The Wall is a landmark achievement in music history.  Beloved by fans around the world and regarded as the album which would ultimately dissolve chief songwriter Roger Waters’ relationship with the band, it’s the story of Pink, a burnt out rock star who grows completely isolated from his fellow man as he slips into madness in his hotel room.  It’s a timeless masterpiece whose epic scale is as large and spectacular as the celebrated live show in which a brick wall was built between the band and the audience over the course of the show.  After Waters left Pink Floyd, he would resurrect The Wall once again in 1990 in Berlin with a number of guest performers aiding the concert and most recently toured a revised live show between 2010 and 2013. 

Following and documenting his tour, Waters co-directed the recently released documentary concert film Roger Waters The Wall which chronicles the 72 year old Waters’ spectacular concert and most surprisingly of all provides a wraparound narrative concerning Waters private spiritual battle with his demons primarily involving the death of his father in WWII.  Much of the concert is interspersed with these remarkable scenes of Waters driving through Britain to Anzio, Italy to confront the site of his father’s death.  It’s a startlingly personal self-portrait of grief and closure which in hindsight is far closer to Waters’ original cinematic vision for The Wall than the 1982 Alan Parker film.

Originally The Wall film from 1982 was intended to highlight the live show by Pink Floyd when to Waters’ apprehension Alan Parker took a more direct narrative approach to the album instead.  Initially it was suggested that Waters himself play the role of Pink before the role ultimately went to Bob Geldof who played the role pretty well but true to Waters’ complaints the 1982 film lacked a sense of humor.  With this new film-within-a-concert-film narrative thread, Waters finally gets to sort of play Pink, who was more or less an extension of Waters’ personality.  The scenes of Waters roaming the bleak landscape of Britain on his way to Italy, interspersed with interactions with friends, family and ghosts of long lost loved ones are spellbinding!  You really have to wonder why when watching these scenes why Waters didn’t take up film acting.  A vibrant and sharply witted personality full of charisma and confident stage as well as onscreen presence, he’s terrific and manages to imbue his scenes with deeply felt emotion and honesty.  It’s also very brave particular in moments where Waters confronts his unresolved grief regarding his father’s death.  Staring at a family photo during Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1, tears streaming down his face, this is as close to Waters’ most personal space as an outsider to his own carefully constructed wall as we’re likely to ever get.  For all the years I’ve followed Pink Floyd and Waters’ solo career, it’s a wrenching look at an intensely private moment in Waters’ life.

The concert footage, it goes without saying, is fantastic!  Shot and exquisitely framed in 2.35:1 widescreen with newly computer animated sequences projected onto the wall set as well as reworked Gerald Scarfe animation from the 1982 film, this is one of the most well-made concert films with a narrative thread linking it all together since the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.  While many of the songs and inflatables of the teacher, mother, girlfriend and finally the neo-Nazi pig are familiar to countless fans, Waters manages to surprise with many new technical innovations including crystal clear images projected onto the wall and new song transitions never heard before!  If there’s any minor complaint to make of the whole thing, it has to do with the specificity of Waters’ political targets.  

Throughout the show, images of citizens who have lost their lives to war are projected onto the wall and there were times when my thoughts drifted to the song The Fletcher Memorial Home when Waters names off a derisive laundry list of political figures.  Despite the new Wall show feeling a bit preachy with these additions, this is as close to Waters’ original intentions for The Wall film as well as a self-portrait of the man as we’re likely to ever get.  Following the picture was an interview with both Roger Waters and Nick Mason sharing memories of Pink Floyd as well as some much needed laughs to send everyone home feeling their evening was well spent.  While most people will see Roger Waters The Wall either on demand or wait until the impending blu-ray release, this was clearly meant to be seen and heard in a theater with a large screen and big Dolby Atmos sound!  If you thought this was simply going to be another concert film (a great one at that nonetheless), like Liam Neeson wisely says in his introduction to the film, you’re in for a real treat! 


-Andrew Kotwicki

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