It’s always been easy to see Pink Floyd’s magnum opus The Wall as a bunch of self-indulgent silliness written by an entitled rock star, but if you’re in that camp (I’m not), Roger Waters’ touring production of the album from a few years ago may change your mind. This film of that show, which includes interstitial material shot as Waters explored his grandfather’s and father’s deaths during World Wars I and II, drives home the pain and anguish that fueled the writing of the music in the late ’70s. In the end, the concert and accompanying film demonstrate that the musician’s story is actually a universal one about loss, feelings of hopelesness, and ultimately, redemption.
The concert performance in Roger Waters the Wall was stitched together from his 2010-2013 worldwide tour during which he put together the most impressive staging of the album yet. The set is massive, with a partially built wall that is filled in during the first half of the show. Animations, including some of Gerald Scarfe’s work from the 1982 movie, and live-action footage are projected on a circular screen behind the band and on the wall while props including a plane that crashes into the stage, a grotesque school teacher, and the infamous pig add to the larger-than-life staging.
However, the film doesn’t begin with concert footage. It opens on Waters leaving a performance and heading home, where artifacts from his father’s life, including a death notice from World War II, line the walls. The next day, he leaves in his vintage Bentley and drives to a British memorial to the dead from both World Wars, where he mournfully plays the trumpet part from “Outside the Wall”.
That sequence sets the stage for this film, which cuts away from the concert in key spots to show Waters reading a letter to his mother about his father’s death, traveling to his grandfather’s grave with his children, talking to friends, and eventually visiting the memorial in Anzio, Italy, to his father and others who died there during World War II. Those moments are beautifully shot, although they could have used a bit of trimming — If you want to accuse Waters of being self-indulgent, that’s certainly where you could do so.
Waters doesn’t restrict his self-reflective mourning to himself, though: Early in the concert, during “The Thin Ice”, he presents images of those killed in wars and other conflicts, starting with his father and progressing through an Iranian activist killed in Tehran, an Iraqi boy and an American soldier killed in Iraq, and others. Eventually, the wall is filled with images of such people, and later, during “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”, children dance on stage with “Fear Builds Walls” shirts.
Those moments, combined with Waters’ travels to revisit the fates of his father and grandfather, drive home the movie’s message that humanity must end its pointless conflicts if it ever hopes to stop creating broken adults and cease our species’ self-destructive ways. Sure, easier said than done, but there’s nothing wrong with putting that message out in various ways and hoping that maybe some day, most humans will pay heed.
The film concludes with Waters visiting the memorial to his father and others who died in Anzio. He plays “Outside the Wall” again on his trumpet, and the scene dissolves to the same song being played at the end of the concert. Waters pays homage to his band mates as they walk off the stage amid the detritus of the fallen wall. Photos and biographical information for all the people displayed on the wall run alongside the movie’s closing credits.
The film disc also includes a five-minute piece during which Waters visits a Bulgarian memorial to British Major Frank Thompson and others ruthlessly killed by the Nazis after a mock trial. There are also time-lapse videos showing setup of the massive set, rehearsals, and filming for shows in Athens and Buenos Aires.
This Blu-ray release also has a second disc with 80 minutes of bonus features, starting with several minutes of outtakes from the scenes of Waters driving around with his kids and with an unnamed friend. It’s easy to see why that stuff was cut, and more material from the film should have joined it.
The second disc also has video of David Gilmour’s appearances to play “Comfortably Numb” and “Outside the Wall” (the latter with Nick Mason, too) during one of Waters’ shows at the O2 Arena in London. Finally, the platter has nearly an hour of short videos that were originally posted on Facebook. They run the gamut from Waters’ thoughts on celebrity today (surprise: he hates fake celebs like the Kardashians) to behind-the-scenes clips to Waters espousing on many of the modern world’s ills and how The Wall functions as a commentary on many of them.
Finally, there’s a code for a digital copy of the movie. It would have been nice to have a commentary track on the film, along with a documentary about the history of The Wall, but what’s here is certainly enough to satisfy any ardent Waters fan.