It’s true- the world’s greatest (and most famous) rock musical does not exist in our ethereal world of movie streaming, which is a ridiculous shame and perfect example of how our current brand of capitalism fails the public on so many levels.
Politics aside, Alan Parker’s film adaptation of Pink Floyd’s seminal album has lost none of its edge since it came out 40 years ago, which is pretty amazing considering how pretentious these kinds of projects usually are. The Wall is basically a 95 minute music video, one that’s dark, depressing and nihilistic – all the stuff you’d expect would appeal to a angsty teenager.
The crazy thing is, it works. The anger against institutions, from school (we don’t need no education…) to the military to church to the nuclear family… it may seem old hat four decades later, but it still packs a punch here. The reasons are many: one, Waters’ anger against everything from the music business to Thatcher’s England is legit, and he successfully channels that anger into his lyrics. Two, Parker’s music video sensibilities, with the dramatic lighting, the opulent staging, and the attention-calling editing keep the film from ever getting close to anything you’d call boring. It’s a real visual feast that never lets go.
Third, Gerald Scarfe’s iconic animation is unforgettable. Those twisted flowers and grotesque creatures are as essential to The Wall as Ralph Steadman’s art is to Fear and Loathing– they are forever entwined. And, finally, the music: it’s amazing, but you already knew that. Generations later, bands from Radiohead to Arcade Fire all owe their entire careers to the ground that Pink Floyd laid before them, and the film The Wall is that rare cinematic adaptation that actually matches the quality of its source material. Both are relentless in their focus, crushing any brief respite of light you may begin to feel with a sledgehammer of cynicism and disillusionment. You’d think that kind of oppressive sensibility would get old after a few minutes, but no- The Wall puts you through the ringer and makes you like it at the same time.
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