Monday, 17 September 2012

Reminiscing about: The Wall

Pink Floyd's The Wall is an album, stage show and movie. You all probably know it. It's an album that keeps running into me, or I keep running into it even if it isn't one of my favourite albums. It follows me and re-appears through several key moments of life. It's not a perfect album. Don't get me wrong, it's a good album, just not flawless enough to get right up there in my personal canon. In my opinion Wish You Were Here is the best Floyd album, as its the last time the band was truly working together in the studio to craft a piece of aural art in a collaborative fashion. The cracks were showing but the machine was still working. After that it was all ego, money and the business and occasionally inspired art that comes with that. Roger Water's The Wall does manage to one of the more rewarding megalomaniac ego trips turned consumable entertainment. Its the larger media experience of The Wall, the imagery and the themes is what catapults it beyond the music (which is undoubtedly very good) found within. This experience is inseparable from the drawings, stage show and movie. Here's my little journey with Pink Floyd's The Wall.

I first became familiar with Roger Waters' narcissistic concept album as a child, listening to it via my Dad's music collection. I don't remember much from this listen, but I know I was already familiar with Another Brick In The Wall Part Two from the concert film Pulse which I'd rented out from time to time. I was probably between six and eight.

It wasn't until I got a tape copy of it around age ten that I fully delved further than Another Brick In The Wall Part II. To my ten year old mind however it was all a bit too much to handle. I love tracks like Mother now, they're great satirical folk/pop rock songs with a dark edge, but not something that did much for my adolescent mind. What I was really attracted to at this stage was the drawings and animations associated with The Wall. Growing up I often saw the animated clip from the Another Brick In The Wall segment of the school teacher crushing children through a meat grinder. The school teacher looked so nasty, the idea of crushing children into pulp left a huge impression on my young mind. I didn't get the symbolism behind the image, I was attracted to the sickening violence of the image. I would regularly walk past the VHS case at my local video store and stare at the image on the back, of the school teacher and also at the screaming face on the front. These were repulsive but at the same time attractive images.


Flash to me at 11 or 12 and it was now time for me to watch the film. Rented it on DVD yet this happened to coincide with me getting the flu. I was sick, already had a temperature and was having all the awful feverish dreams one associates with this kind of flu. Decided to watch The Wall in this state was not a good idea. My mum was definitely around to attempt to censor me, but I was stubborn. I didn't get past the trailer. Those dark three minutes of hammers, animated monsters, children's faces becoming those of identical ghosts, blood, religious symbolism and rock was enough for my young mind. I turned it off and went to bed, and would sat through no more of the film before returning the DVD. Following this, every time I went to the video store I would have to turn the case of The Wall around as I walked past it. I was truly bloody afraid of the screaming face on the front of it.

Soon the terror I initially felt upon watching The Wall became the very thing I appreciated about it. It took me a fair few months to again pluck up the courage to watch the film again, but when I finally did, I loved it. The film still disturbed me, in particular those ghostly masks on the school children, and the animated sequence to Goodbye Blue Sky, but it was the films disturbing yet elements that I now appreciated. The cluster-fuck of music, psychotic imagery, and the sometimes clashing contributions of Scarfe, Waters and Parker made for an awe-inspiring film experience. Like the album, the film contains its share of flaws, but these can be mostly overlooked and contribute partly to why the film is an interesting experience, such as the clashing live action/animation and musical elements. But the film certainly invaded my thoughts enough for me to come back to it frequent times over the next ten years. Most recently I watched it in preparation for seeing the Roger Water's The Wall stage show live in Auckland. This recent viewing once again reignited my appreciation of the film, as the music and images thrusted themselves upon my life a shotgun blast to the head. The riot of teenagers entering the fascist-like experience of the opening concert set to the tune of In The Flesh, the Jesus Christ pose of Bob Geldof during The Thin Ice, the dark anti-war animation accompanying Goodbye Blue Sky, the flower vagina fight and of course the marching hammers; the film experience felt as fresh and effective as it ever had.  Apparently the making of the film wasn't an incredibly enjoyable time for any of the party's involved (Alan Parker particularly expressed his unhappiness during the films production). I guess sometimes a tense atmosphere creates the most interesting art.

Largely male perspective horrors litter the
film and stage show. Which is interesting
because a large proportion of the
audience were female.
Then finally, seeing The Wall live, In The Flesh in front of me; puppets, pyro, planes, projections, flying pigs and all, was the culmination of a saga lasting more than a decade, reaching back into early childhood memories of listening to Floyd for the first time and being exposed to graphic and inspiring images crafted for The Wall. Its not a show I ever expected to see live, it seemed so ambitious in its first live form that it seemed farthest thing from possible that Waters would decide to resurrect it. But he did, he brought the whole damn thing right to my home country. And I was there with my father, the man who introduced me to Pink Floyd as just a wee young lad. The music and the images were still as haunting and curious as ever, except seeing the school-teacher in fucking gigantic puppet size or watching the Gerald Scarfe animations projected on a wall covering an entire arena was a fully immersive experience, so much more so than listening to the album on vinyl or watch the film. Not that either of those experiences are to be scoffed at, as it is for those that I was introduced to this great, flaws and all, piece of modern contemporary art. Finally, my father and I got up and ran to the front for one of the final songs of the show, Run Like Hell. I'd like to say it somewhat echoed the riot of fans at the beginning of the film (though probably not as intense). Waters was right in front of us, and we were pretty sure he look and laughed as we crossed our arms in the marching hammer salute and thrusted them towards him. We partyed, to a work of art that had disturbed my little mind ten years earlier, in front of the very mind that created it in the first place.

Quite a good little journey really. Here's a video of that moment if anyone's interested.

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