Roger Waters The Wall Review

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A remarkable record of one man's personal vision

by Steve Withers Nov 1, 2015 at 9:02 AM

  • Movies review


    Roger Waters The Wall Review

    It’s been over thirty years since Pink Floyd released their ground-breaking double album The Wall.

    The project was conceived from the start as a multi-media production, with the album to be followed by live shows and a feature film. It was ambitious to say the least, especially considering the technology available at the time, with the live shows themselves involving a physical wall being constructed between the band and the audience during the first half. In the second half the band played from behind the wall whilst animated films were projected onto it using three synchronised projectors. The band’s live performances of The Wall in 1980 and 1981 would be their last as the classic line-up until they reunited for Live 8 in 2005.
    The 1981 live shows were actually filmed with the intention of using them in the planned feature film but unfortunately the light levels were too low and the footage was deemed unusable. Instead director Alan Parker created his own vision based upon Roger Waters original concepts for the album and live show. Pink Floyd's The Wall was released in 1982 and was a difficult production with Waters, Parker and animator Gerald Scarfe all butting heads. After its release Waters commented that it was good but a bit short on laughs, although there didn't appear to many jokes in the original album.

    Roger Waters The Wall
    After a protracted legal dispute with his former band mates in the late eighties and early nineties, Waters retained the rights to his magnum opus as part of a settlement. The Wall has always had a fairly loose narrative structure, telling the story of a rock star who has a breakdown whilst on tour and imagines himself as a fascist leader. The protagonist remembers various key moments in his life that are metaphorically bricks that he uses to build a psychological wall around himself before finally breaking out at the end. Within this basic premise there's room for other ideas to be expressed, which Waters first did in 1990 when he performed The Wall in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Whilst the two weren't directly connected, it made sense at the time.

    In terms of the original live shows in 1980 and 1981, Waters took the metaphor of a wall and literally built one between him and his audience. This was in part because he felt alienated from his audience after Pink Floyd's huge 'In the Flesh' tour in 1977 which famously ended with him spitting in the face of an over-enthusiastic fan. Waters was disgusted with himself and so was born the idea of The Wall, which fused Waters own neuroses with the mental breakdown of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett. The original live shows were only originally performed in three cities due to the technological challenges involved in the production but by the 21st century technology had caught up with his original vision.

    So in 2010 Roger Waters embarked on a huge solo tour, in which he would perform The Wall in its entirety, playing to arenas and stadiums around the world. At last he could deliver the multi-media spectacular that he originally envisioned, thanks in on small part to the use of twenty-two 20,000 lumen projectors. The tour was planned as his swan song, the ageing rocker feeling that he wouldn't be capable of such a huge venture again, and it ended up being the highest grossing solo tour in history. Waters took the established narrative structure of the album and live shows, retaining the puppets, flying pigs and fascist imagery but wove into it a commentary on the modern nature of warfare, where it's the civilians that usually suffer. The original story concentrated mainly on the Second World War but the new show addresses all wars.

    The film could just have been a visual record of the tour but Waters is too much of an artist to be satisfied with something so prosaic.
    Waters has always worn his left-wing political heart on his sleeve and the new show was no exception, addressing the current 'War on Terror' within The Wall's loose narrative structure. The result is a show that is as thought-provoking as it is spectacular and it truly is spectacular. Filmed in both an indoor arena in Athens and a Stadium in Buenos Aires, the show is vividly brought to life with the filmmakers managing to capture the sheer scale of the production, whilst also retaining more intimate moments. If it had just been a visual record of the tour that would certainly have been enough but Waters is too much of an artist to be satisfied with something so prosaic. So woven in amongst the concert footage are scenes of Waters driving around Europe in his Bentley Continental, visiting key war graves that are, in various ways, connected to him.

    This very personal road trip involves Waters, his friends and children, and although it's as staged as the live show, it does give a fascinating insight into the man himself. This is a very different Roger Waters to the one that wrote The Wall back in the late seventies. He's now older and wiser and seems more at peace with himself and his audience, a fact he addresses when talking about the irony of performing a show about how awful stadium gigs are in huge stadiums. The intimate and highly personal nature of the road trip juxtaposes with the vastness of the show itself and provides an emotional counterpoint as Waters plays his trumpet at the graves of both his father and grandfather. It ultimately brings the entire story full circle and if The Wall Live does prove to be Roger Waters touring swan song, then this is a superb record of one of the most ambitious visions in rock history.

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