Magill's Survey of Cinema, June 15, 1995
Review: PINK FLOYD, THE WALL Movie
Abstract: Based on Pink Floyd's successful rock album, this nonlinear narrative employs live action and animation to present a violent, disturbing insight into Pink (Bob Geldof), a burned-out rock star. Through flashbacks and hallucinations, Pink explores the conveyor-belt regimentation of his school days, his dictatorial hold on his audience, and his misogynistic fear of women as rapacious devourers. As Pink explores the self-alienation he has constructed around him, the metaphorical wall comes tumbling down.
Summary: In late 1979, British rock group Pink Floyd released a concept album called "The Wall." The album stayed on the BILLBOARD Top Ten list for twenty-seven weeks, occupying the number one spot for fifteen weeks. Pink Floyd went on to perform a series of concerts featuring a stage show during which a thirty-foot-high brick wall was constructed and destroyed nightly. In 1981, British director Alan Parker set his creative genius in motion and fashioned a film out of the music and lyrics written by Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters.
Starring Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Irish group The Boomtown Rats, PINK FLOYD THE WALL offers a violent view into the mind of a burned- out man. From the opening shot, a long gray hallway in a Los Angeles hotel, time and space are compressed and distorted. A cleaning woman switches on a vacuum cleaner and goes about her business, while Pink (Bob Geldof), oblivious to the outside distractions, sits listlessly staring at a television. The flickering, blue-black images resolve into historical footage from World War II: as he stares at the television, Pink sees his father (James Laurenson) killed at the Battle of Anzio.
At the very moment that his father was dying in Italy, Pink was being born in London. Flashbacks show the young Pink (Kevin McKeon) growing up fatherless, clinging to the only evidence of paternal identification he can find: a neatly folded army uniform his mother (Christine Hargreaves) has stored in a dresser drawer. At school, Pink intellectually repressed. The schoolmasters taunt and scream at the children as they sit erect at rows of wooden desks. In what is perhaps the most powerful musical segment of the film, the schoolchildren lethargically line up on a conveyor belt which will drop them into a meat grinder. On their way to this graphic end, they sing: "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasms in the classroom. Teachers, leave us kids alone!"
The action is cut by flashbacks of Pink's past and his breakdown in the hotel room. Pink reminisces about the moments of completeness and security he found with his wife (Eleanor David), but his many months on the road created a chasm in their relationship, which was widened when she took a lover and estranged herself from Pink. This void brings out Pink's darkest misogynistic feelings. In a sequence featuring the kaleidoscopic animation of British illustrator and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, colorful neon flowers bloom and soar through the air. The blooms are given both gender and personality by their movements and reactions to each other. The female flower is demure and quiescent. The male dances agressively around her and assumes the lead. When they unite, in a mock-violent form of intercourse, the female flower reveals sharp teeth and devours the male. Pink sees his mother as an overbearing, neurotic, smothering mass of good intentions and his attractive wife as a viper demanding sexual gratification.
The women in PINK FLOYD THE WALL are characterized through Pink's misogynistic eyes. There are no tender moments between men and women. Nazi-like "Hammer Guards" swoop down on a parked car in which an interracial couple sit, beating and killing the man. The woman is taken screaming from the car and is then raped and brutalized by the thugs. For Pink, women are repressive mothers, cheating wives, devouring monsters, or, as exemplified by a young and willing groupie (Jenny Wright), insipid and immoral.
Pink's private world is fraught with grotesque memories and hallucinogenic sequences. Sitting slumped before the television in his hotel room or floating effortlessly in the hotel swimming pool, Pink begins to explore the horrors of his public world as a rock-and-roll demagogue.
As the world-famous Pink, he moves through his concert appearances as an unfeeling tool of the music. As he feels his emotions slipping away, his fans become emotionally charged. During the concert sequence, which resembles a Fascist rally, Pink marches on stage in a red and black uniform, replete with crossed hammer insignias. His eyes are devoid of emotion; his posture is rigid and controlled. He assumes his place at the lectern and strikes an eerie Hitleresque pose. The waiting audience of young people holds its breath, anticipating glorious salvation from Pink. A ghastly likeness to Nuremberg parade-ground scenes from Nazi filmmaker
Leni Reifenstahl's TRIUMPH DES WILLENS (1935; TRIUMPH OF THE WILL) can be recognized here, but instead of a Teutonic military march, the band strikes the first note and Pink lashes out with the first concert song, "In the Flesh II." Scarfe' s animated March of the Hammers is a powerful touch, as the images parade in triptych across the screen. Pink's song calls for all Jews in the arena to be hunted down and expelled. The horde obeys and begins to prey upon the victims of Pink's racial hatred, while the band breaks into "Run Like Hell." For this sequence, choreographer Gillian Gregory conceived a Nazi-like dance routine to the pulsating music. Hundreds of young audience members, programmed to react to Pink with synchronized "sieg heils," begin to lose their own personalities within the frenzy of crowd behavior. They put on Pink masks which strip them of their individuality, symbolically as well as literally becoming faceless, nameless blobs.
The mere removal of a mask, however, does not end Pink's nightmare. His hell continues until he puts himself on trial. After a concert, Pink brings an attractive young groupie back to the hotel. She anticipates an evening of adventure with the great idol, a memory she can giggle over with her girlfriends. Much to her chagrin, Pink sits in his chair, a vapid excuse of a man. The groupie tries to kiss him, but at this simple gesture of human affection, Pink goes berserk. While the girl hides, terrified, he tears the room apart, smashing windows, ripping down the blinds, throwing lamps, and tossing the ever-present television through the window. As his rage mounts, he moves on to the bathroom, where he shaves his whiskers, hair, and eyebrows. His face as well as his psyche are a bloody mess, but in spite of all the disorder, Pink craves to give form and structure to his decadence. Down on his hands and knees, he begins to pattern the scattered shards of glass, wood, and fabric into an intricate design on the carpet.
The film draws to a conclusion when Pink faces the wall he has built. For the first time in his life, he sees the result of his alienation, anger, and frustration: a forbidding stone wall that stretches to infinity. Pink throws himself at the wall and claws at the damp brown cinder blocks. The wall will never tumble. The dreams of the battlefield and the monster flowers overwhelm Pink again. This time, however, he tries to reach beyond the wall he has built. In this scene, Pink sings, "Goodbye Cruel World," "Is There Anybody out There," and "Hey You." This self-examination of his life begins to shake the wall, and before he knows it, the wall explodes and tumbles.
PINK FLOYD THE WALL began as an album originally planned by Roger Waters to be both a stage show and a film. When interest in the dual media production waned, the band Pink Floyd concentrated on mounting the spectacular stage show. Waters composed all the original music, inspired by the isolation he experienced while on tour and by the prospect of the power he could wield on stage. Pink became a mouthpiece for Waters' opinions and an instrument through which he could exorcise his demons.
The conception of this film, which is devoid of conventional narrative and dialogue, is Roger Waters', but the lush visual images and the pulsing action are characteristic of director Alan Parker, known for his previous films, BUGSY MALONE (1975), MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), FAME (1979), and SHOOT THE MOON (1982). Despite Parker's track record, securing backing for PINK FLOYD THE WALL proved difficult; backers were wary of still another "concert film" and were slow in signing checks to cover the eleven-million- dollar budget. Once financial backing was secured, the search for Pink was begun.
Early in preproduction, it was agreed that Waters could not and would not play Pink, as he was too close to the material. Bob Geldof was chosen because of the theatrical quality of his live performances. Geldof (who is not a Pink Floyd fan) summarized Pink's character in the following statement: "Pink is a pathetic figure who's full of self-pity." Geldof's approach to Pink was both "laid-back" and intense. His small, staring eyes convey a hollow little man who is self-consciously destroying himself. On stage, his ferocious intensity is evident in every gesture.
Several components of the stage show overlapped into the film. Gerald Scarfe, who originally created huge mechanical puppets for the concerts, adapted these creatures into animated form for the film. Animated marching hammers, devouring flowers, and grotesque teachers feeding children into a meat grinder became symbols of Pink's nightmares. The most spectacular image in the stage show, secondary only to the destruction of the wall, was the March of the Hammers in triptych. A complicated system of three synchronized projectors accomplished the visual feat, which was repeated in the motion picture.
Perhaps the main problem of PINK FLOYD THE WALL is its tone, which lacks the humor and self-mockery of HAIR (1979) or TOMMY (1975). In TOMMY, director Ken Russell constantly reminded the audience that the story they were watching was merely a twisted, modern-day fable. PINK FLOYD THE WALL may satiate the appetites of midnight cult-film fans, but it is sorely lacking in the humor it needs to save itself from wallowing in the self- pity which Bob Geldof observes in Pink.
PINK FLOYD THE WALL is not simply another "concert film," and it cannot be judged along with films such as GIMME SHELTER (1970) and THE LAST WALTZ (1978). It is an agonized story of postwar decadence, a fable marred by confused intentions, a film which encourages many of the excesses against which it is ostensibly directed.