Written by Richard Weston

It does not bode well for a movie when its own director describes the filming as “one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life.” 

This was Alan Parker’s reaction when asked about Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982).  

Pink Floyd themselves were hardly delighted with the film. Bassist Roger Waters, who helped write it, said: “It didn’t give me, anyway, as an audience, a chance to get involved with it.” David Gilmour said the decision to make the film marked the beginning of the end of the band. 

When the film premiered at Cannes, Parker claims Steven Spielberg’s reaction was simply “what the f*** was that?” 

So who did love it? Not just me – the film took $22 million at the box office and won two BAFTAs. 

Yet it is hard to find anyone today who has seen it and actually liked it, except for diehard Pink Floyd fans. 

Admittedly, it’s not hard to see why, as the film is far from mainstream. Pink Floyd – The Wall is a musical, but not in the sing-along sense of Mamma Mia! orChicago. It has barely any dialogue and the thin plot is only discernable through fortuitous interpretation of the film’s lyrical and visual metaphors. 

Pink Floyd – The Wall is a semi-biographical account of Waters’ life showing how his father’s death in World War II led to years of misery and bitterness. This is shown in the film through the antihero Pink, who creates a metaphorical wall between himself and the world he feels disconnected from.  

What a film like this needs is a blockbuster actor to carry it along. Not Bob Geldof, who has the lead role. A big name in music but not on screen, Geldof’s acting is wooden in places. This was Geldof’s screen debut and unsurprisingly his forays into the acting world have been largely limited to cameos since then. However, little is required from Geldof to portray Pink, who only ever looks high, hungover or miserable. 

Why would anyone love this film then? Well, because it is so unique. What it lacks in plot, acting and dialogue, it makes up for in originality as a film driven by music and drenched in symbolism and satire. 

As a musical film, it would be doomed without a good soundtrack, but Pink Floyd – The Wall has some fine songs to support it. Tracks like ‘The Thin Ice’ and ‘One Of My Turns’ are angst-ridden rock songs describing Waters’ emotional turmoil after his father died and his resulting pessimistic existentialism, accompanied in the film by scenes of graphic violence.  

Long Gilmour guitar solos reflect the protagonist’s fleeting feelings of liberation. The famous ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)’ reflects a youthful Pink’s dream of children destroying their school and ‘Comfortably Numb’ marks his descent into a drug-induced fantasy, letting him escape his troubled life.

The film is interspersed with animation sequences, cleverly used at the moments where Pink’s anguish needs more extreme depiction. Gerald Scarfe’s animations are superb, dark, distorted creations. Pink’s bitterness with the world is shown by the ruthless marching hammers, his isolation by a contorted face screaming through a brick wall, and his fractured relationships by the twisted puppets representing his loved ones.

The satirical themes are startling and impressively shocking. With the swaggering riffs of ‘Young Lust’ blaring in the background, a series of groupies writhe around half-naked to impress a band, while Pink could not look more disinterested, sitting alone in his trailer. Near the end of the film, his insanity is portrayed by sympathy with a fascist movement which marches through streets, smashing up shops. Pink’s wall is finally torn down as he loses a kangaroo trial in which the judge is an animated walking anus. 

It is a film for a niche audience as the loose plot is almost impossible to follow, but Pink Floyd – The Wall is not about telling a story. It may merely look like a sequence of music videos, but the action, scenery and music complement each other perfectly to express some strong emotions. In places, the film is a visual and musical feast, and very thought-provoking

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.