This film version of the 1979 Pink Floyd album of the same name is more of a curiosity than a classic. Part animation, part rock musical and part art-house movie, it’s a head-on clash of artistic styles that pleased none of its makers yet still succeeds as a belligerent social treatise.
Although it was derided on its release in 1982 in Britain, a time when the rock cognoscenti had abandoned the intellectual pleasures of progressive music for the down-to-earth rebellion of punk and new wave, The Wall has weathered well. It’s also a testament to a time when rock bands felt they should make meaningful and controversial art, rather than just knuckle down and accept their place in the corporate moneymaking machine.
Like the album, the film was the idea of Pink Floyd bassist and de facto leader Roger Waters. It was also, like the album, a creative process riven with violent arguments, internecine battles and underhand dealings. Waters had always intended the album to become a film that starred him in the lead role and featured the animation of satirist Gerald Scarfe.
When EMI Films turned down the project, Waters realised he needed a movie insider to get it off the ground, and brought in British director Alan Parker. Parker replaced Waters with future Live Aid organiser Bob Geldof, then the frontman of new wave band The Boomtown Rats. Waters, Scarfe and Parker proceeded to tear each other’s ideas to pieces for the duration of the shoot.
The story revisits many of Waters’ ideas from such Pink Floyd albums as The Dark Side of the Moon – the problems of the class system, the legacy of the second world war and the mental illness of former Floyd bandmate Syd Barrett. The famed Another Brick in the Wall sequence, which depicts children being minced in a meat grinder, is a stab at the conformity of the education system.
Geldof plays Pink, a rock star who has built a metaphorical wall around himself to escape the pressures of fame. Pink had become delusional and imagines himself to be a fascist dictator, while the inner workings of his mind are expressed via Scarfe’s disturbing cartoons. The story about rock star alienation resulted from an incident in which Waters spat on a fan trying to climb on the stage.
Many of the songs were adapted to fit the film, and Geldof – who said he hated Pink Floyd at the time – takes lead vocals on a couple. Geldof’s freak-out sequence is cut to the marvellous Gilmour opus Comfortably Numb and is the highlight of the movie.
Pink Floyd the Wall will be screened on August 23 and 29 at the Hong Kong Science Museum Lecture Hall, in Tsim Sha Tsui East, as part of the Summer International Film Festival.