By John Curley
Roger Waters The Wall, a film that mixes concert footage of a live presentation of The Wall with a documentary that presents the personal cost of war to Roger Waters’ own family, is a gripping piece of cinema that will put the viewer through a myriad of emotions and leave them cursing the horror, the enormous human cost, and the utter futility of war.
The film, shown in cinemas around the United States by Fathom Events and directed by Waters and Sean Evans with photography by Brett Turnbull, features an extraordinary presentation of a performance of The Wall in a French stadium. It really makes the viewer feel that they are at show. It is an exception to the rule that concert films can never replicate the experience of being at the show.
The Irish actor Liam Neeson opened the film discussing the effect that seeing Pink Floyd perfom The Wall live at London’s Earls Court in 1980 had on him. Neeson said that outsider angle of the album really resonated with him because as an Irish actor living in London during the times of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, he felt very much an outsider. Neeson went on to say that he saw Waters perform The Wall many years later at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and that the performance that night had had the same impact on him that the Earls Court show did.
After Neeson’s introduction, the film intercuts between the incredible concert footage and the very personal documentary scenes. Waters is shown in a military cemetery playing the stark and sad trumpet intro that starts “In The Flesh?” When the film then cuts to the concert, Waters and company are presented in black military-style uniforms with armbands bearing crossed hammers. It’s quite a transition, and very riveting. During “The Thin Ice,” images of soldiers and civilians killed during wartime along with their birth and death dates were shown. This is followed by a shift back to the documentary, a stunning image of a tearful Waters sitting in his car, with raindrops on the car windows, looking at the yellowed letter that had informed his mother of the death of his father, Eric Waters, at the Battle of Anzio during the Second World War.
One of the most stirring images in the film is when a troupe of children wearing black T-shirts bearing the words “FEAR BUILDS WALLS” dance onstage during the performance of “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II).” Equally emotional was the moment that Waters dedicated the concert in memory of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian national killed by members of London’s Metropolitan Police at the Stockwell tube station in London in a horrific error in the panicked days following the July 2005 terrorist attack on London’s public transport network. Images of a subway train riding along are projected onto the wall as Waters makes the dedication.
Waters goes to see the grave of his paternal grandfather, George Henry Waters, in a French military ceremony, first on his own and then with family members. George Henry Waters was killed in 1915 while fighting in World War I. His son, Eric, was two years old at the time. So, neither Roger Waters nor his father knew their fathers.
Symbolism is an important part of The Wall and, during the performance of “Goodbye Blue Sky,” this is very evident as images projected onto the wall show planes dropping religious symbols and corporate logos instead of bombs. And the debauched lifestyle that some rock musicians live while on tour is pilloried during the performance of “Young Lust” with images of groupies being shown on the wall.
One of the lighter moments in the documentary is of Waters and a longtime friend discussing the trip they took to locales like Turkey and Iraq when they were young men in the 1960s. In juxtaposition with this is the scene of Waters in a French bar telling the bartender, who does not speak English, about how his father died at Anzio. Waters also reveals to the bartender that he is planning to see the memorial to his father at Anzio.
The live performance of The Wall seems at times as much performance art as it is a rock concert, never more so when, during “Nobody Home,” Waters is shown seated in a hotel-room set with video screens in front of him. And the isolation that he felt as a boy whose father didn’t return home from the war is brought home when images of weeping children being reunited with their fathers returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are projected onto the wall during the performance of “Bring The Boys Back Home.” It is difficult to view those scenes of reunion without getting choked up.
Prior to the spectacular performance of “Comfortably Numb,” Waters is shown solemnly having arrived at Anzio. Waters donned the dictator outfit again for the performances of “Run Like Hell” and “Waiting For The Worms.” Waters delivered his vocals for “Waiting For The Worms” through a megaphone as the Gerald Scarfe images of massive hammers marching in lockstep are projected onto the wall.
The documentary part of the film builds up to the moment when Waters goes to Anzio to see the memorial to his fallen father. Earlier in the documentary, Waters gets emotional when telling his friend that at a benefit he performed for wounded military veterans, a soldier grabbed his hand, wouldn’t let go, and looked Waters in the eye, telling him, “Your father would be very proud of you.” After the wall, which had been constructed throughout the first half of the concert, is shown being torn down, we see a stoic Waters at his father’s memorial. It’s such a personal moment that it seems almost intrusive to be watching it. After a moment of silent reflection before his father’s memorial, Waters takes a trumpet out of his bag and plays the trumpet intro to the finale, “Outside The Wall.” Waters and his fantastic band, which included guitarists G.E. Smith and Snowy White, as well as Waters’ son, Harry Waters, on keyboards, perform the song in front of the now-destroyed wall. It was a terrific end to an amazing film.
Included in the Fathom Events presentation of the film was a very entertaining post-film featurette titled The Simple Facts that featured Waters and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason answering questions sent in by fans. It’s a nice sidebar to the film and will definitely be appreciated by Pink Floyd fans. And the lighthearted banter in The Simple Facts is a nice contrast to the heaviness of the feature film.
EDITOR’S NOTE: GOLDMINE’s review of Roger Waters’ performance of The Wall at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 5, 2010 can be read here.