‘Roger Waters The Wall’: Toronto Review

Roger Waters 2013 L
Sean Evans
Sure, the concert footage of this massive work of stagecraft is impressive, but by the end it becomes an insufferable exercise in ego-centrism

Concert footage from the recent live tour of ‘The Wall’ is mixed with material showing a more personal journey taken by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters in this documentary

The documentary Roger Waters The Wall seamlessly stitches together footage from several different 2013 performances of the live stadium show in which ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters and his band played music from the 1979 album The Wall. Interspersed footage shows Waters taking a road trip across Europe to visit war memorials and graves personally significant to him. The film’s title may lack an apostrophe after the “s” in “Waters,” but there’s no mistaking to whom all of this belongs.

As a film, it provides a useful service to fans and Wall-curious viewers who haven’t been able to attend the spectacular show — a jaw-dropping extravaganza involving light projections and massive puppets, during which a huge wall is constructed onstage and demolished over the course of an evening. But even for admirers of the music, the whole thing comes across as one big ego trip for its co-director/screenwriter/composer/star/performer, a man famously zealous about asserting rights over his intellectual property against his former bandmates. Given the music’s huge fan base, there’s no doubt the package will bank better-than-average revenue for a rock doc from theatrical distribution and ancillary sales.   

The material from the original double-LP concept album, almost entirely written by Waters, has already been commemorated on film twice. First came the 1982 movie Pink Floyd The Wall (another grammarian-infuriating, apostrophe-free title) directed by Alan Parker with animations by Gerald Scarfe and Bob Geldof as the protagonist Pink, a barmy confection that’s become a cult classic. Then, in 1990, Waters and co-director Ken O'Neill made a concert-doc, The Wall: Live in Berlin, featuring an amazing all-star supporting cast of musicians, from Cyndi Lauper to Van Morrison, covering the songs from the album on a site where the recently dismantled Berlin Wall once stood.

By all accounts, the most recent iteration of the 2010-2013 Wall Live stage show used even more elaborate stagecraft than earlier versions, deploying state-of-the-art equipment to turn the wall built throughout the performance into a huge screen on which footage from the Parker film, archive material and new animations are projected, while ginormous inflatable puppets based on Scarfe’s designs and fireworks make pop-up appearances throughout. As is standard practice now at stadium concerts, cameramen onstage film the musicians at closer quarters for the projections, and these seem to match up to cutaways in the film. It’s conspicuous how often the close-ups feature Waters’ mug but very seldom the faces of anyone else from the band. Once in a while, there will be a zoom-in on the fingers of ace guitarists Dave Kilminster, Snowy White, or G.E. Smith during a solo, for instance, but even then it feels begrudging.

Like the lyrics of the record itself, a self-serving, often misogynist album à clef based on Waters’ own biography and issues, the film is really all about him: his pain over the WWII death of the father he never knew, his paranoia, his bad marriage, his talent (he duets with projected, 1980 footage of himself at one point) and, above all, his grandiose feelings of empathy for victims of war. One new montage shows snapshots of people killed in conflicts from the seven continents of the world, presumably to make the headline-grabbing point that war is bad. Elsewhere, one animation shows war planes dropping crosses, Stars of David, and hammers-and-sickles, along with Chevron and Mercedes-Benz logos (clearly, the latter companies weren’t tour sponsors). There’s a sense that this woolly, liberal anti-war rhetoric is, however sincere, partly there to distract from the misogyny, misanthropy, and sodden self-pity of the original lyrics.

Unfortunately, there are no such distracting if pleasantly bombastic pyrotechnics in the road-trip interludes. This stuff is all just Waters, shown tooling about the countryside in his vintage Bentley, hanging out with his children (who look uncomfortable), playing mournful tunes at cemeteries, or (clearly only half) listening to film director Peter Medak discuss his own war-torn childhood in Hungary. It’s excruciatingly self-indulgent material that someone should have persuaded Rogers to leave on the cutting-room floor, especially given the film runs a numbing 133 minutes. Perhaps it might have been interesting, if running time wasn’t an issue, to have interviewed people like Sean Evans, both the film’s co-director and the tour’s creative director, about the challenges inherent in putting on such a spectacular — or maybe even some of the other musicians. But no, none of that. Sharing credit is not Waters’ gig.

Production companies: A Rue 21 Productions presentation

Cast: Roger Waters, Dave Kilminster, Snowy White, GE Smith, Jon Carin, Harry Waters, Graham Broad, Robbie Wyckoff, Jon Joyce, Pat Lennon, Mark Lennon, Kipp Lennon, India Waters, Jack Waters, Willa Rawlinson, Peter Medak

Directors/Screenwriters: Roger Waters, Sean Evans

Producers: Roger Waters, Clare Spencer

Executive producer: Mark Fenwick

Director of photography: Brett Turnbull

Editor: Katharine McQuerrey

Music: Roger Waters

Sales: Mister Smith Entertainment

No rating, 133 minutes