Roger Waters’ gigs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn today and tomorrow are being augmented by the Quad Cinema’s “Welcome to the Machine: Pink Floyd at the Movies,” a mini-festival featuring the music of Waters and his former combo. If you can’t get to the shows, you can still get your Floydian groove on.
Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii (1972)
(Monday September 11, 5.10pm) Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright were rock veterans in their twenties when Adrian Maben made this documentary concert film, the Floyd’s equivalent of the Beatles’ Let It Be doc. The live footage—shot in front of the band’s crew only—at the Pompeii amphitheater over four days in October 1971 features glorious versions of “Echoes” (split into two parts and bookending the film), “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” “One of These Days,” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”
It’s wondrous, though Maben overlarded his saucer: it combines molten lava, an animation of Pompeii’s destruction, and space program footage. Fragments of rehearsals for “Dark Side of the Moon” were filmed in black and white at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, when Maben also got the group to talk, in close up, about its reliance on equipment, the value of its music for punters, and whether the members have arguments. Their ability at the time to overcome their difficulties is illuminating given the acrimony between the band members in the 1980s.
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
(Monday September 11, 7.05pm, and Wednesday, September 13, 5pm) Waters’ father Eric was killed during the battle of Anzio in 1944 when Roger was five months old. The Wall concept album, mostly written by Waters (as was the film’s script), merges a semi-autobiographical account of his growing up fatherless with the story of a jaded rock star, Pink (Bob Geldof), who mounts shows that both mock and embrace fascism, and whose neglected wife is having an affair.
Shots of street riots mirror urban malaise in Britain during the Thatcher era, and Gerald Scarfe’s visual design, featuring his scabrous animations, is stunning. Director Alan Parker never got a grip on the stop-start narrative, but The Wall remains an ambitious spectacle—albeit one less coherent than The Who’s two filmed rock operas, Tommy (1975) and Quadrophenia (1979).
(Monday, September 11, 9pm) The first of director Barbet Schroeder’s films to use Pink Floyd’s music uses it sporadically and diegetically, as the songs heard by the main characters Stefan (Klaus Grünberg) and Estelle (Mimsy Farmer)—often on her ramshackle cassette player.
The movie is ramshackle, too: a kind of hippie-era Sid and Nancy or liebestod (“love death”). German math graduate Stefan first meets the American drifter Estelle in Paris, then follows her to Ibiza, where she is partially shacked up with an ex-Nazi (Heinz Engelmann). Dreamy addict Estelle successively turns Stefan onto hash and heroin. As a cautionary fable, More is a little too much in love with decadence.
When the Wind Blows (1986)
(Tuesday, September 12, 5.15pm) The animated movie of Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel was directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, who had had a great success with his short film of Briggs’s The Snowman. When the Wind Blows tells the story of James and Hilda Bloggs, a humble retired English couple—based on Briggs’ parents and voiced by Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills—who try to survive a nuclear war. (The lean-to shelter James builds in their home doesn’t have the resilience of the domestic bunkers being built in the current age of anxiety.)
The themes in Roger Waters’ soundtrack for the film range from sentimental through dystopian and chilling: it was what might have been expected from him in the post-Final Cut and post-Pink Floyd era of his career. There were contributions, too, from David Bowie (the title song), Genesis, Squeeze, Hugh Cornwell, and Paul Hardcastle.
La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) (1972)
(Tuesday, September 12, 7pm) Pink Floyd wrote some of their softer songs for their second collaboration with director Barbet Schroeder. Their ambient sounds are little more than noodling, though it’s worth waiting for the electrifying climactic passage that carries over into the final credits. The score suffers in comparison, though, with Popol Vuh’s synth score for Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, a superior 1972 film about white explorers seeking an earthly paradise.
Schroeder cast his wife Bulle Ogier as Viviane, the repressed wife of the French consul in Melbourne; she starts an affair in Papua New Guinea with an explorer (Michael Gothard). When he, another man, two women, and a boy head into the bush to seek the feathers of a rare exotic bird, Viviane accompanies them. Their encounters with the isolated Mapuga tribe teaches her more about enlightenment than the vague free-love credo of the white travelers.
“Obscured by clouds” refers to the mystical paradise region glimpsed in the distance at the end of the film. Pink Floyd named their album for it after falling out with the film’s production company.
Zabriskie Point (1970)
(Tuesday, September 12, 9.10pm) The only film Michaelangelo Antonioni shot in America, Zabriskie Point (1970) was a box-office disaster, but it now looks revelatory as a documentary-style counter-cultural drama. Sam Shepard contributed to the screenplay, and it clearly fueled his collaboration with Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas, as well as Bruno Dumont’s anti-Valentine to America, Twentynine Palms, perhaps even Terrence Malick’s Badlands.
Mark (Mark Frechette), an apolitical student with his own methods of radical action, walks out of an L.A. campus strike meeting but participates in the ensuing riot, during which a policeman is shot. He then steals a private Cessna from Hawthorne airport and flies east to Death Valley. He starts to swoop down and buzz a young secretary, Daria (Daria Helprin), who’s driving to Phoenix, ostensibly to meet her boss (Rod Taylor), a real-estate mogul who’s selling off tracts of the desert.
After Mark has descended, they drive to Zabriskie Point and make love alongside many other naked couples (as probably fantasized by Daria). The police mete out justice to Mark on his return to Hawthorne. As if in revenge, Daria imagines blowing up her boss and his fellow executives in his Berchtesgaden-like retreat near Phoenix. Antonioni rejected the music Pink Floyd wrote for this powerful anti-capitalist sequence, replacing it instead with a re-recording of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.” The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, John Fahey, Patti Page, and Roy Orbison also feature on the soundtrack.
Dave Gilmour Live at Pompeii (2017)
(Wednesday, September 14, 7pm) Forty-five years after Pink Floyd played Pompeii, Gilmour returned, on July 7 and 8, 2016, to the Roman amphitheater to perform two shows—in the vein of Pink Floyd’s audio-visual extravaganzas—in front of crowds of 2,600. Among the songs he performed were “The Great Gig in the Sky” (as a tribute to the late Rick Wright), “Comfortably Numb,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Money,” “High Hopes,” and “One of These Days”—the only number reprised from 1971. Floyd-ophiles can appreciate the symmetry between the circular amphitheater and the familiar cyclorama screen that stands behind the band. The DVD and Blu-ray concert film is released on September 29.