Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Age Reviews: Pink Floyd's The Wall

How does one do this? How does one review The Wall? A review, by definition, must be written as soon after viewing as possible, to ensure that one gives as close an aproximation to your original thoughts as possible. However I'm having trouble collecting my thoughts on The Wall seeing as it fucking BROKE MY MIND!

Any attempt to retell the plot, in any form, is wasted effort as the film's plot is barely comprehensible. It switches between 3 settings and characters, a rapidly burning out rocker, a fascist dictator and a child growing up post-war without a father, loosely connected by actors and intersecting scenes and a series of fantastically drawn and incredibly trippy animated sequences. Is one real, one memory and one hallucination? The film is entirely unconcerned with such a trivial little detail, and essentially goes out of it's way to NOT answer that question. It's ultimately pointless anyway, as in this movie, the plot is most decidedly NOT the point.

But for once when I say the plot isn't the point, it isn't in a cheesy B-Movie “That bit where Bruce Campbell uses a rocket powered chair to kill a mummy is the point” way (anyone who gets that is awesome). No, in this movie, the music is the point. The film proper is adapted very loosely from an album, called The Wall by musicians Pink Floyd, one of the pantheon of 60's rockers who redefined rock.

The idea of using an album to tell a very loose story is not one particularly unique to Pink Floyd; David Bowie did it in his breakout album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, The Kinks told a VERY loose story in their album Arthur or the Fall and Decline of the British Empire. Hell Coheed and Cambria use their entire catalogue to tell a very broad overarching story. The Wall's closest spiritual siblings are Help! by The Beatles and Tommy by The Who. In terms of strictly critical quality, The Wall is not as widely seen as Tommy nor as coherent a story as Help! but I think it's the superior product.

Well that's 4 paragraphs ranting about things that are not, strictly speaking, relevant, but a lot of The Wall is hard for me to review. From a strictly 'what I like' stand-point, the music is bordering on orgasmic. It doesn't use The Beatles technique of having it's actors also be it's musicians, which is good because while The Beatles were (in my opinion) some of the most brilliant musicians who have ever lived, they were none of them great actors. It also avoids the Tommy technique of hiring people who can act well and then forcing them to sing (Sweeney Todd hadn't happened yet, so people hadn't figured out to alter the music to their actors and make it a stylistic choice). This also led to, shall we say, problems. Don't believe me? Go to youtube and look up Jack Nicholson trying to sing Tommy Can You Hear Me. Yeah, that's what I thought.

No, 97 percent of the time, the people on screen aren't even doing the singing. Most of the time the music takes the form of a bombastic narration, lending the extraordinarily surreal scenes some connection. There are only 3 scenes where the characters on screen are the ones doing the singing, 2 if you don't count the chorus, and both of those are clear, if high quality, lip synchs. All of the music is clearly pulled directly off the album the movie is named for, and on that level I need to devote sentence to telling you whether the music is good or not: It's Pink Floyd, what the fuck do you think?

Secure in the knowledge that the music is incredible, the director is free to concentrate on the oft-forgotten technical aspects of a musical. No, not the writing, there's maybe 5 minutes of spoken dialogue in the entire film, and very little of that is consequential; The directing. The camera work is actually excellent, using light and shadow to help underline the increasingly surreal visuals. The costume work is amazing, from the pseudo-Nazi uniforms in the fascist sequences, to the hippy knockoff outfits found in the rocker sequences, to the creepy masks taking front and center in the school sequences, but appearing throughout. All of this is tied together with a clearly dedicated editor and a well used set and prop design.

The animated sequences deserve frank description. Aside from being fantastically trippy and often extremely frightening or unnerving, they are beautifully animated and well placed, serving less as interludes and more as transitions or expositions.

I must say though, the movie is extremely obtuse. I'm on my third viewing and I'm not sure what, if anything, the movie is supposed to be about. But that's not what a review is supposed to talk about (what you're looking for there is an analysis). What a review is supposed to tell you is whether or not you should see it. Well hell yes you should. This is a fantastic film, a high point for rock operas and musicals in general. So what if you don't get it, I still don't entirely understand all the points in The Seventh Seal but that doesn't stop me from seeing it ever October. Plus if you have an insufferable sibling or cousin, who thinks they like musicals after watching High School Musical or is always annoying you with Glee, drop them down in front of this. See how long they last.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Poltergeist

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's finished his meat; can he have some pudding now?

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