The Wall at the wonderful Avoca Beach Picture Theatre, not quite knowing what we were going to see. Was it going to be a remake of the original movie or a documentary reflecting on the album that was first released 37 years ago? It turns out to be an edited version of Roger Waters' 2010-2013 concert tour, with concert footage interspersed with Waters' pilgrimage to war memorials where his father and grandfather died.
37 years! Makes me
feel old, because I remember buying that album at the time. Now, when I listen
to a lot of the music I loved back then, it sounds pretentious and musically
lame, but The Wall is one of a handful of albums that continue to be inspiring:
the music is still catchy and complex, the lyrics profound, and the artistic
Pink Floyd was
always known for the extravagance of their light shows, and Waters raises that
in this concert to amazing heights. I mean "raises" literally -- the
stage crew gradually build a brick wall at the front of the stage during the
concert, so that by half-way through the musicians are completely obscured by a
10m wall and continue to perform behind it.
The wall has always
been the central metaphor of the whole project, and Waters has worked that
metaphor to the limit through multiple re-interpretations over three decades.
We build personal walls to protect ourselves, but they end up isolating and
imprisoning us. As he emphasised in the Berlin
concert in 1990, the wall can also isolate and imprison nations.
I've always been a
great fan of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense,
Laurie Anderson's Home of
the Brave, and even pretty impressed with Michael Jackson's posthumous This Is It.
But from a creative point of view, The Wall has a scope and attention to detail
that surpasses them all. The staggering visual effects complement the storyline
of the music and amplify the audacious vision that is both a commentary on war
and fear, and a semi-biographical reflection on modern masculinity.
It is that last
point that stood out to me as I watched the movie. The lasting value of the
whole project is likely to be not the creativity, or the music, or the visual
effects but the insightful portrayal
of the modern western male psyche. Waters has captured the angst I feel, and I
think many of my male peers feel. The ambiguity of whether walls protect or
imprison. The shame of expressing emotions. The demoralising outcome of modern
education. The distrust of government. The misguided aspiration for rock-star
status. The disappointment that life has not delivered what we hoped for. The
depressing thought they we are no more than a single brick in a huge impersonal
In another review of
this movie, Leslie
Felperin accuses Waters of misogyny. I think Felperin is wrong about that,
mistaking an honest portrayal of the male experience for a denial of the female
experience. The movie is almost devoid of females. All the musicians are male.
Waters' travelling companions are male apart from a brief scene with someone I
presume is his daughter.
The story in the
lyrics reveals a youth who had difficulty separating from a perhaps
over-protective mother. The original movie (from memory) had more to say about
how that psychological rut was transferred to his wife. That's coupled with an
absent father. The commentary in this movie explicitly notes that war caused
not only Roger Waters to grow up without a father, but that the same thing was
true of his father.
Waters is a man
castrated, but consciously on the journey to discover what it means to be a
Along that journey
he notes -- and discards -- false ideals of the masculine. Waters' repeated use
of faux-Nazi characters and symbols satirically presents the emptiness of the
supposedly masculine will to power. Woven throughout the piece is a criticism
of the tendency to judge those who are different and the way that is ultimately
expressed in the stupidity of waging war against the Other. When it comes to
male attitudes to women, he notes the pathetic expression of lust for a
"dirty woman", and couples that with a fear of being eaten by a
One of the best
outcomes of feminism is that it has forced men to think about the meaning of
masculinity. Waters hasn't resolved that here, but he clearly rejects some
possibilities, and I think points towards two more helpful possibilities. In
"Nobody Home" he sings "I've got wild staring eyes \ and I've
got a strong urge to fly \ but I got nowhere to fly to." What I think
Waters is attempting here, or at least pointing towards, is to reclaim the wild
man archetype. The problem is, how does one get there from here? We feel
trapped behind the wall we have conspired with society to build around our male
identity. But let's at least affirm the will to break free.
The second direction
Waters points to is the demolition of the wall. Sometimes it can be a conscious
deconstruction; other times it is forced upon us as a shameful punishment
"to be exposed before your peers." But in the end, as is clear from "Outside
the Wall", we need each other.