Pink Floyd: The Wall - Not Just For Pink Floyd Fans

Jan 6, 2009 (Updated Jan 6, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:excellent use of the songs as a narrative, great performance by Bob Geldof, great animation

Cons:may be dated to some younger viewers

The Bottom Line: A great film that tells a story rather than being just an excuse for a series of music videos.


For all my love of music during my life, I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan. I don't know why, but only Jethro Tull was lower on my list of bands that I liked. The only song I found the least bit redeeming was Learning To Fly because it was such a great make-out song.

I approached Pink Floyd: The Wall with that bias. I have seen it several times over the years, and it wasn't something that made a huge impression on me, despite assurances from my friends that it was "a classic". Would age change my opinion? 

The story is told of a rock star known by the name of “Pink” (portrayed by Bob Geldof). Images from the second world war tell the story of a soldier coming home, destroyed by the things he saw.  The death of Pink’s father has a devastating effect on the boy. This is the world Pink was born into and what shaped him - somewhat reminiscent of The Who’s Tommy. It was a common theme for many British rock stars as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters lost his own father in the war itself rather than the aftermath.

Pink’s life as a rock star begins with glorious success as he discovers an ability to manipulate people the same way he felt manipulated in school by his teachers. His life takes a series of downward turns, however. Always feeling the need to experience the rush of the audience adulation, Pink turns to drugs. Soon he needs the drugs to make it through the performance as well. His wife leaves him for another man.

All of this is told with the narrative of Pink Floyd’s songs. They fit very well and don’t feel forced; as if situations are deliberately created so a Pink Floyd song will fit the moment. Instead, it all comes together to tell the story of the rock star and the strange way he sees the world.

Many parts of Pink Floyd: The Wall are animated by noted animator Gerald Scarfe. One person I viewed this with many years ago was an aspiring animator himself and he gave me a better appreciation for these parts. Especially now, seeing what is accomplished with CGI the animation of the time can be appreciated for its artfulness. CGI could never capture certain nuance; it would have to be too perfect and not capture the haze and faults that appear in the world Pink sees.

Much of the film is also social commentary on what society was evolving into, such as depicting the education system as being put through a meat grinder. It seems Pink Floyd was early in sounding the warning of the creativity being drained from our schools as all kids become medicated to absorb dutifully what the teachers have to say. This and other parts had a lot to do with feelings throughout Britain about what was happening under Margaret Thatcher’s conservative governance.

When Pink evolves into the Hitler-like character, it’s something that was less believable back in the day when I honestly thought something like that could never happen again, but now I wonder. Pink’s motivation for this is quite circular. He hates the fact that he lost his father and was raised by his mother alone. To that end, instead of hating the Nazis who killed him, he hates what he believed caused the Nazis to rise up and become involved in the war. It’s an interesting take on how we level blame sometimes.

Directed by Alan Parker, it’s quite obvious the band - and in particular Roger Waters - retained a great deal of control over the movie itself. The imagery and story don’t become distorted from the main message of the album itself. Bob Geldof is excellent as Pink, although there are actually scant few spoken lines in the film. He wanders in and out of the songs demonstrating emotions without uttering a word. I could sense the wide range of emotions from drinking in the rapturous adulation to anguish; from anger to depression. He retreats further and further into himself even as his star is rising simply due to the isolation stardom brings. It’s a place where he trusts no one’s motives. Geldof conveys all of this without vocalizing his thoughts or feelings, which truly amazed me.

The DVD is an excellent rendition of the film. Gone is the imperfections of the print, all nicely cleaned up digitally. At the same time, the parts that aren’t supposed to be perfect still have the softness and warmth I remember from earlier viewings. There’s a good number of DVD extras that make the DVD worth having in your collection if you’re a fan of the film or Pink Floyd’s music.

The highlight of the film is of course the music. It is mostly narrative with a significant number of songs considered classics by Pink Floyd fans. I can’t comment on that part. Pink Floyd: The Wall didn’t make me like their music any more, but I did like the film, although not with the adulation many of their fans feel for it. The message is somewhat depressing, especially considering that the world has turned into a commercialism-driven society that seems to value possessions over people.


SPECIAL FEATURES: 

• Commentary with Gerald Scarfe (animation designer) and Roger Waters 
• Retrospective: Looking Back at The Wall 
• The Other Side of The Wall 
• Hey You music video 
• Another Brick in the Wall music video 


© 2008 Patti Aliventi


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