The Wall is possibly the greatest piece of rock theatre and possibly the most iconic and complete piece of rock song writing. This is not an exaggeration. The Wall is one of those rare musical artifacts that is the sum of all its components. Not one song is redundant, serving as a variation and progression on one basic musical and conceptual theme. And despite being so groundbreaking particularly in the late 1970s, it remains timeless as both music and lyrics still influence musicians and resound in our times of increasing war and human suffering. Its timelessness undeniably is what makes the jaw dropping show put on by Roger Waters so adaptable to our impoverishing times and to the staggering possibilities of media technology that have transformed the actual wall behind which the band used to hide when performing in the 1970s. Today, the wall is a 3d screen platform on which Water’s meditations on war unfold, enriching our experience of the music into a holistic audiovisual and conceptual feat.
I am stating here my personal opinion but this is shared by fans and musicians around the world who share also another important experience; The Wall signifies a moment where artistic genius changed the world. It has not stopped the war or the arms trade but has inspired people all over the world in a way that only the most holistic expressions of art have (one might consider here the art to emerge from radical movements such as feminism, black video and film in 1980s Britain or even the Nouvelle Vague in France). Those famous lines “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” remain inspirational and take popular music from the sphere of entertainment into the arena of politics shaping minds – either we live in the late 1970s or the 00s. Waters was the first rock songwriter to create the wheel, to articulate a call to arms and a genuine plea for change through popular music. Admittedly, whoever created the wheel, knows how to do it best.
The film, directed by Waters and Sean Evans, is divided into two sections that intertwine, complementing each other in order to talk of something contemporary, revealing that The Wall is not exclusively a product of its time or a museum artifact. It opens with Waters driving from France to Italy and specifically to Anzio, the site of a defining WWII battle where his father Eric Fletcher Waters was killed when Roger was still a child and where a monument has been erected honoring Fletcher Waters together with hundreds of other soldiers. This section of the film unfolds as a meditative and near hypnotic road movie replete with references to the two World Wars and in particular to Roger’s father and grandfather. The latter died in the WWI trenches when his son was just two years old. A sense of utter defeat becomes an encompassing theme that connects a family trajectory and a history of war and loss across one hundred years. This road movie is a personal journey (typically one of self discovery, natural and emotional landscapes) as much as it is about the suffering of anyone who has lost a loved one in combat and who builds mental walls. It is open to the audience to identify with waters, his personal story and journey.
And then we are taken to two different stations in the global tour of The Wall, in Spain and France where the stadium rock anthems resound loud and clear. My most immediate question before viewing the film was if the two sections would interrupt each other by interchanging. On the contrary, what we have here is one entity which, in its totality, speaks of something contemporary in relation to the past through one single yet complex audiovisual production. The live performance compliments Water’s journey and vice versa, as we switch from a WWI cemetery in Italy to the stage in Spain where the band performs ‘Vera’ and ‘bring the boys back home’ driving the message directly to audiences in cinemas.
The final point of reference here is this layered audiovisual experience which is at once immersive and alienating, challenging yet exciting.
The Wall in cinemas is an unusual if not unique cinematic event. The film was screened at the same time in cinemas across the world for only one night aiming at a shared post-world-tour experience and opportunity. It combines genres shifting from a road movie to a documentary and a film concert. The very notion of a live performance problematizes the filmmakers’ aims and the cinematic experience of the Wall in concert since this is a recorded event, monitored and edited and moreover a mediated viewing that highlights, with little subtlety, the abundance of screens in the 21st century. Through the artifice of the screen we are asked to view all the truly breathtaking animation and writings projected on the 3d wall. The actual material wall is gradually being built to entirely obscure the band which at one point is shown playing behind the wall, taking the concept of walls (mental, physical – all dividing and alienating) quite literally. The actual wall (which is demolished in the cathartic finale very fitting of a climactic drama of self discovery) at one point is a complete physical construction and at another a 3d screen which Waters breaks with his fists during the searing solo of ‘comfortably numb’. To say that one can understand, enjoy and be fully immersed in the visual and the audio of The Wall live is probably far from possible since we are observing a screen through another screen. This film epitomizes mediation and thus invokes various questions on the authenticity and value of the artwork since its immediacy (a recorded live event) beauty and its very texture are gone through the mechanical reproduction of the cinema.
Although this screening was a great and once in a life time opportunity, it is disturbing that this is possible – to view a rock gig through a screen in a cinema (despite being immensely entertaining and thought provoking). In addition to this, the projections on the screen and wall are part of a cinematic experience which is lost in its reproduction in a cinema. This is of course not an isolated event. YoutTube for example is the number one site for amateur videos of concerts in which one can see, as in The Wall live, a large motionless crowd recording with their mobile phones, causing light pollution (which is an issue when one observes the screen of The Wall) and seeming terribly eager to capture every fleeting moment through a telephone – the most accessible device of mediation and reproduction. Nevertheless, I did find myself emotionally overwhelmed – probably because I am a big fan of Waters and his music which never seizes to touch me.