'Roger Waters The Wall': A concert documentary with lessons about war
"As you could guess," says film director Sean Evans, "Roger is not afraid to speak his mind."
'As you could guess," says film director Sean Evans, "Roger is not afraid to speak his mind."
That unbridled spirit is Roger Waters, cofounder and former front man of Pink Floyd, and, now, codirector with Evans of a documentary on the progressive British band's celebrated theatrical work, The Wall. The film was released this week on BluRay/DVD.
Waters was in his 30s when he conceived the rock opera, about the psychotic decay of a fictional rock artist named Pink, drawn in part from Water's own inner turmoil. The group recorded the concept album in 1979 and, the next year, took it on an arena tour in which Pink's isolation materialized into a real wall's rising between the band and its fans. In 1982, with a screenplay by Waters, director Alan Parker turned it into a part live-action, part animated psychological fright film, Pink Floyd - The Wall.
The work's 2015 iteration, Roger Waters The Wall, is a far cry, literally. It's the long and, at times, unabashedly tearful view of a 72-year-old man who didn't know then what he knows now about himself, about film, or about a world at war. "The Wall," Waters said in a recent interview, "has become a vehicle to realize broader implications. Maybe it was too much about my personal position in life then, that I was too narcissistic and lonely. Maybe it is or can be about more than that, though. This time, there are bigger and more important . . . issues than myself to contend with here."
Waters left Pink Floyd behind in 1985, but not The Wall. The documentary was shot during his 2010-13 tour of his masterwork; it was seen by four million people and was the highest-grossing tour of any solo musician, including Madonna.
Once again, as chronicled in the film, an actual wall was erected around Waters' band. Onto it were projected bloody, explosive scenes of war - a theme with intensely personal resonance. When Waters was 5 months old, his father was killed in World War II; his grandfather died in battle in World War I. But through images of fallen soldiers of all nations and creeds, Waters mourned a far larger loss than his alone.
"There was so much in this story about people dying needlessly," he said, "certainly that started with my father and my grandfather passing but grew to include others."
Before the start of the tour, Waters created a website to seek out people whose loved ones had died in war. "If they lost people close to their heart, I wanted them to tell us about them, a short story, to send us a photo," he said. "Immediately, it became not about me and my loss, but a general loss."
In Roger Waters The Wall, stunning concert footage is interspersed with narrative clips that provide the tender backstory of Waters' grief. He cries while perusing a letter sent to his mother informing her of his father's death, and he bonds with his children while reading at his grandfather's grave.
"I wasn't surprised at the emotion; you can't read that letter and not weep," Waters said of the poetic death notice written by his father's superior officer.
Such moments alone are worth the price of a DVD.
Waters has concentrated his efforts on one conflict in particular. He has long been a censorious voice against Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and a supporter of the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), a pro-Palestinian campaign that calls for an embargo of Israeli exports.
He not only has refused to play concerts there, but has urged fellow artists to do the same - and excoriated those who've refused. Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, and Stevie Wonder responded in the affirmative; Paul McCartney and Jon Bon Jovi in the negative.
"If you look at the Israeli occupation of Palestine, if you look at the history and the evidence, you can have a conversation about the rights and wrongs - whether it is defensible to have a whole people under political and military subjugation for 50 years," he said.
"No one wants to have that conversation, so they call you an anti-Semite."
Waters figures he has "one more big tour in me," but it's unlikely to be The Wall again. The only way he'd pull out its props ("I have the bricks in storage") is if fences came down between the Israelis and Palestinians and peace reigned in the Middle East.
Besides, Waters has newer songs he wants to play. An atheist, he sang-spoke several lines about God and control that he said were the basis for a tune that would be part of a conceptual music-story about an Irish family against a backdrop of war.
Told that he couldn't seem to get away from themes of fathers, sons, and battles, he laughed.
"It is," he rightly observed, "a ripe subject."