Review: “Roger Waters: The Wall”
On Thursday, “Floydian Slip” sent Ed Lopez-Reyes to the first invite-only screening of “Roger Waters
When Roger Waters and his band played the last few notes of “The Wall Live” at Stade de France on Sept. 21, 2013, there was something emotive yet anticlimactic about the end of the show. The gig boasted the peaks and the excitement fans could expect at any of the 219 performances that spanned four years of touring — 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 — but somehow, as fans made their way out the stadium in Paris that night, any glimpse back at the stage that was being stripped down unceremoniously for the last time summoned a sense that something needed closure.
The film “Roger Waters: The Wall” holds the answer.
An entire generation of music (and Pink Floyd) fans grew up between the time “The Wall” was first performed live in 1980 and the time Waters took it on the road in 2010. “The Wall Live” will cement in history as one of the most ambitious and spectacular productions to ever tour the earth. (The 1990 performance in Berlin served as a good hinge between the twain, but in an era that lacked the immediacy and rawness of YouTube it was — and remains — a very remote experience to many.)
An important thing happened in that time: “The Wall” morphed into a much broader and comprehensive message about consumerism, “big brother,” and the blend of government-sanctioned battle and mercenarism that has become modern “war.” It’s in that context Waters shaped a highly anticipated cinematic release of “The Wall Live” into a narrative that once again anchored the story in its genesis: Waters’ own experience with war and the impact it had on his family. This may be the closure we (Waters included) may have yearned for.
Many fans have been skeptical since news arrived the live footage shot in Athens, Buenos Aires, and Quebec City (with the actual soundtrack recorded over a larger number of cities) for “Roger Waters: The Wall” would be intermingled with some sort of documentary. The appetite for a full-length concert video of the tour has been voracious dating back to the first leg of “The Wall Live.” But the word “documentary” actually betrays the quality and art that augments the live footage for lack of a better description: Any skepticism that may have existed will quickly dissipate as the film begins its wide release on Sept. 29, so far, the only date the movie is scheduled to play in theaters.
The presentation at the Dolby Screening Room in Manhattan served as an especially regal setting for the film. Nestled near Manhattan’s Times Square, the exceptionally private and luxurious space is clearly meant to equalize the visual and the auditory experiences. For those that saw “The Wall Live” tour and can remember those points in the show that were particularly intense — those moments that the drums and the fireworks seemed to go hand-in-hand — the Dolby screening experience produced plenty of goosebump-inducing moments.
The film assimilates a narrative that’s interspersed throughout the live performance of “The Wall” and is done with such finesse and connectivity to the right moments in the live footage that it blends seamlessly and draws you right in. It’s easy to assume those bits risk audience attention span but before you remember that there is a concert to watch and return to you have become engrossed in Waters’ narrative, the panoramic shots, and the moments that so echo (perhaps as a subtle homage) old Storm Thorgerson concert footage. This does not detract from the live footage: Few films boast this kind of clarity and sound — two elements that play a critical role in keeping the epicness of the live performance in focus despite the dual, but complimentary, narratives.
The cinematography is impeccable and rich in color and contrast, giving the entire thing an incredibly life-like vibe that’s only multiplied when you add the depth of detail in sound, which was surely facilitated by the state-of-the art Dolby system at this particular screening. The live footage avails a special perspective no amount of shows could possibly provide an audience member in the live experience: the impact of the spectacular effects and the wall of sound it dispatches to the audience as seen and experienced from the band’s perspective, as well as the dynamic between the musicians on stage — even during the time that the performance takes place behind “the wall.”
The film delivers “The Wall Live” experience about as closely as any film could possibly bring anyone to the real thing. For those that missed the tour, this is a gift they should really take advantage of while it plays in theaters. For those that did see the tour — and many fans did… multiple times — it serves as a reminder of some great experiences and of the uniqueness of “The Wall Live” and its place in music and production history.
What “Roger Waters: The Wall” really accomplishes is that, in addition to presenting the performance in such fine form, it’s not afraid to deliver the original intent of Waters’ (and Pink Floyd’s) work at his behest. While “The Wall” has become a vessel for so many people to express or interpret so many pieces of the human condition, Waters has put a clear claim on its original intent and given the audience a chance to re-engage with him more directly on account of that. Ironically (or maybe not) this is precisely what “tearing down the wall” would have been all about to begin with.
The film stands out based on the balance between the parallel productions and the way they each reinforce the other: The ‘documentary’ bits help sustain “The Wall” in a way the modern, recently toured version of the album celebrated. The film manages to do this while re-introducing Waters’ more personal vision for this effort — and all of this while presenting the performance in the finest form imaginable. The presentation of the fine musicians that supported Waters in this huge endeavor of a tour is another treat: All the musicians deserve credit but Graham Broad really comes across as one key figure in that smooth-running platoon.
If there is any regret it may be the film should have included more footage from Quebec City — but then it seems the recording plans changed a number of times. Originally, London’s O2 was meant to provide the footage for this film until that was, for the most part, moved to Athens. Once the tour grew into stadiums it meant another opportunity to capture something new, which is one reason Buenos Aires must have made the cut. But out of 219 great shows Quebec City will always be remembered as the greatest. Those fortunate enough to have attended the first Manhattan screening were hoping a DVD release would include a show like Quebec City’s in its entirety.
Fortunately, no matter what is added on a DVD release, the film strikes such a perfect balance as is that there is really no real room for complaints.