People (myself included) are constantly complaining about the most overrated properties of all time. Well, today, I would like to present one of the most underrated musicals of all time: Pink Floyd The Wall.
At first glance, it merely seems like an overwrought drug trip that does not even attempt to be coherent or entertaining. This is not exactly untrue. But it is missing a good portion of the entire idea; the film and the album are meant to be the ultimate revelation of the minds of rock stars. Most lived normal childhoods and had their problems greatly increased by their fame. It is not uncommon for them to undergo the sort of journey that Pink does in this film, shunning human interaction altogether in exchange for their art, which only becomes more and more incoherent and which may even lead to their premature death (see Michael Jackson, Syd Barret, Captain Beefheart, Axl Rose, John Lennon, Ian Curis, and Elvis Presley as just a few examples). This is usually overlooked by fans and the media, simply because their wealth should excuse any problems they may have. It was brave for Pink Floyd The Wall to do what it did, and to do it in a way that actually appears what would happen in such an individual’s mind.
The film is about the rock star Pink (Bob Geldof) who is in a hotel room going mad. He reexamines his fatherless childhood, his overprotective mother, his school, and his relationship with his wife. Finding that human contact only serves to hurt him, he constructs a mental wall to prevent people from getting in. While at a concert (which he can only perform at after being awakened from a drug coma) he becomes a fascist sort of leader, unleashing his hate upon the crowd and beyond. This is all set to rock music; there is very little spoken dialogue in the film.
Now, on the surface, this is not an easy film to sit through. It is probably the longest music video in history, and contains the same sort of sensory overload that one would expect. Those convinced that music videos destroyed video entertainment will find the film a pretentious, hallucinogenic chore to sit through.
But the thing is, it is as much of a commentary about how rock music and musicals were changing. It tells a story, certainly, but could not be filmed in any conventional way. The film is not meant to be seen, it is meant to be felt. Pink is slowly going mad; his mind is a very disjointed, non linear place that would be impossible to understand. It was the same way with many concept rock albums. To try and understand them in a literal sense would be to miss the point entirely – it is about emotions can be felt, what messages can be found.
What does this mean for the film? It means that it is a success in doing the same thing that such albums were meant to do. The images of the film are dense with information – on Pink’s childhood, to his audiences. Sometimes, the images blur together, and sometimes they are not fully present at all – changing on Pink’s mental state. The animation sequences created by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe make up the most memorable sequences in the film. Probably the best is the one with the flowers, in which a female flower eventually devours the male one after coitis. There are many such moments, but it is unclear exactly what their prescence in the film mean at first. Only later can audiences really figure it all out; this is the true view of Pink’s mind. The animation is an attempt for Pink to reconcile with some of the things that he has only heard about or cannot express properly. Most of them are actually quite violent, but appear to be more palatable then what one would initially expect. Again, it is all about Pink’s mind. These animations were not meant for the film, but were designed for Pink Floyd’s stage show. The fact that they still managed to compliment what was happening on screen shows some real talent.
And that is what really makes the film good – talent. At least, the people involved knew what they were doing. Director Alan Parker is probably the best musical director of the past thirty years. Films like this, Evita (which has the same basic plot as this film), and Fame show that Parker can create the same sort of spectacle classic Hollywood could, redressed for modern audiences used to fast paced editing. The emotional response to his film is not asked for, but earned. I know many will be repulsed by the film, in the same way that some find the album hopelessly depressing. Those who watch will find the experience rewarding and surprisingly accessiple for such a non linear cult film.