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Saturday, November 28, 2015

ROGER WATERS THE WALL -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle



Roger Waters has mellowed over the years.  No longer the self-described "grumpy person" of his bitter youth who was "disaffected with rock'n'roll audiences"--he once reportedly spat in the face of a beaming Pink Floyd fan caught basking in the "space cadet glow" of the bombastic opening number from "The Wall" instead of appreciating it as a sour stadium-rock parody--Roger now freely basks in that glow himself, and seems to be having the time of his life just being happy while his art channels his anger into the ether like a lightning rod.

Such is the Roger we see in the 2014 concert film-slash-mockumentary ROGER WATERS THE WALL (Universal Home Video, 2-disc Blu-ray + HD Digital Copy), still restaging his magnum opus from the waning days of Pink Floyd for wildly enthusiastic audiences filled with people who weren't even born when the original double-album hit the record racks in 1979. 

The film is an impeccably shot and directed record of this landmark performance intercut with other material featuring Roger as Roger, mainly during a road trip through Europe to visit the memorials of his father and grandfather, both fallen war veterans.  He's sometimes accompanied on this trip by a school friend with whom he shares faded memories, and sometimes by his own grandchildren.  In one sequence he has a few weary late-night drinks in a secluded pub while filmmaker Peter Medak recounts his harrowing escape from Nazi-occupied Hungary.


As deep and revealing as these passages are, they tend to intrude somewhat on the concert's overall effect and disrupt its momentum.  I realize this is necessary if we're to learn the true meaning and origins of The Wall's fervently anti-war message and how they've shaped Waters as a person throughout his life.  But it's nice when finally, at the gravesite of his grandfather on a lonely French hilltop, a pensive Roger takes a trumpet out of his bag and plays those first plaintive notes that will begin the concert. 

The venue is vast and so is the stage, upon which a wall will be gradually constructed during the concert (symbolic of the main character Pink's walling himself off mentally and emotionally from the world) which will also serve as a screen for a spectacularly elaborate projection show that will threaten to overload the senses.  The audience of tens of thousands of escstatic fans (each of whom seems to have the lyrics memorized in their entirety) ripples and writhes like an ocean of bodies, reacting in fits of rapture to every song lyric and musical nuance from the bombastic to the exquisitely subtle.

Roger, to the surprise of pretty much no one, takes full credit for all the words and music here (as he's been known to do on his other solo tours, even on the Pink Floyd songs he didn't write!) but I think it's pretty much recognized that The Wall is his baby, and, as it has turned out to be from the perspective of time, universally associated with him as he keeps on revising and restaging it over and over.  


Waters himself seems to evolve with each new reimagining, and seems happier and more at peace with himself than ever before when he isn't shedding a bitter tear over his fallen father and the state of the world in general.  Indeed, the whole thing seems to be deeply cathartic for the latter-day Waters who is obviously allowing himself to relax and have the time of his life during this concert--and is, at this point, a million miles away from that angry young man who once held his own audience in contempt.  

It's odd that such a creative and expressive lyricist as Waters doesn't feel creatively stifled from repeatedly "running over the same old ground", but he seems content to have made "The Wall" his main creative focus for the past several years, imbuing it with a curious fusion of cynicism and sentimentality that translates into some powerful emotional moments.

The story of The Wall begins with "In the Flesh?", that anti-anthem which foreshadows the curdled tone of Pink's later descent into musical fascism.  Then we flash back to his birth and upbringing in war-torn England with such songs as "The Thin Ice", the enthusiastically-received "Another Brick in the Wall" parts 1 and 2, "Mother", and "Goodbye Blue Sky."


Pink's gradual alienation and withdrawal from the world are recounted as Roger and the band (with singer Robbie Wycoff and lead guitarists Dave Kilminster, Snowy White, and G.E. Smith filling in for the sorely-missed David Gilmour) take us through "Young Lust", "One of My Turns", "The Last Few Bricks", and "Goodbye Cruel World", which Roger croons while sitting alone in a livingroom set seen through a single gap in the now otherwise solid wall.  (Other strategic gaps will appear in the wall here and there to highlight various musicians.)

With Pink's final lapse into spiritual catatonia comes the iconic "Comfortably Numb", long a highlight of The Wall (especially when David Gilmour is on hand to perform  it), followed by his transition into a Nazi-like perversion of the typical rock star who now leads his lemming-like followers to ruin.  The final act consists of such harshly satirical songs as "Run Like Hell", "Waiting For the Worms", and "The Trial", with Roger marching about in Gestapo garb firing a machine gun until finally the wall comes crashing down and all that bombast shrinks back down to a single plaintive tune, "Outside the Wall", to end it.

During all this, of course, there are dazzling pyrotechnics that are staggering to behold along with the most elaborate multimedia light, SPFX, and projector show (featuring Gerald Scarfe's oversized puppets, the giant floating pig from the cover of "Animals", and that iconic round screen familiar to Pink Floyd fans at the heart of it all).  The sight of ultra-widescreen images being projected onto the wall is often utterly astounding, to which the profoundly emotional audience basks in every image, and every deeply-ingrained lyric, with what may accurately be described as utter ecstasy.


Roger himself soaks it all in, reveling in the old "space cadet glow" as much as the audience.  He knows this ultimate incarnation of The Wall (so far, anyway) is his finest hour and he's milking the experience for all it's worth--which is a considerable amount.  In fact, the magnitude of this overwhelming and incredibly impressive audio-visual experience is quite possibly unlike any other musical theater production ever staged.

Roger's limited voice is in fine form here (even his strident "character" voice that I find so grating on the last two Floyd albums has been toned down) as is his chunky bass playing, with all the familiar old songs and one or two newer ones that I didn't recognize from the original Floyd album.  There's hardly any need for backup singers with the thousands of people in the audience singing along and adding to the overall robustness of the sound. 

The 2-disc Blu-ray from Universal Home Video (instructions for downloading an HD digital copy are also included) is in high-definition 1080p widescreen and Dolby 5.1 sound.  Image and sound quality are, as one might guess, excellent.  A multitude of languages and subtitles are available.  Disc one extras (also present on the DVD) consist of Roger's visit to the grave of poet and soldier Frank Thompson, who died in WWII, and a time-lapse view of the construction of The Wall's elaborate stage.


Disc two bonus features (exclusive to the Blu-ray) consist of approximately thirty Facebook videos detailing every aspect of the stage production along with Roger Waters' philosophical musings on everything from why he loves New York to Man's inhumanity to Man, plus lots of insight into his creative processes.  There's also some more driving footage from Roger's road tour of Europe. 

For those who missed David Gilmour's presence during the concert, the disc features a special version of "Comfortably Numb" in which Dave makes a surprise appearance, along with the landmark reunion of Waters, Gilmour, and Floyd drummer Nick Mason during the concert's finale.  Here, geniality and good spirits prevail as Roger is clearly joyous to be in the company of his old bandmates again (save for the late Rick Wright). 

As for me, I'm equally glad the old animosity is gone and that I can like Roger Waters again.  Indeed, he comes across here as a nice, warm older gent in addition to being an ego-driven control freak, qualities necessary for anyone aspiring to create something as immense and staggeringly impressive as the event in which we're vicariously immersed with ROGER WATERS THE WALL.  It's an achievement that could aptly be described, in the words of Barry Fitzgerald in THE QUIET MAN, as "Homeric." 

Buy it at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray
DVD

Tracklist


    "In the Flesh?"
    "The Thin Ice"
    "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)"
    "The Happiest Days of Our Lives"
    "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)"
    "The Ballad of Jean Charles de Menezes"
    "Mother"
    "Goodbye Blue Sky"
    "Empty Spaces"
    "What Shall We Do Now?"
    "Young Lust"
    "One of My Turns"
    "Don't Leave Me Now"
    "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)"
    "The Last Few Bricks"
    "Goodbye Cruel World"
    "Hey You"
    "Is There Anybody Out There?"
    "Nobody Home"
    "Vera"
    "Bring the Boys Back Home"
    "Comfortably Numb"
    "The Show Must Go On"
    "In the Flesh"
    "Run Like Hell"
    "Waiting for the Worms"
    "Stop"
    "The Trial"
    "Outside the Wall"

Street date: December 1, 2015



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