Color, 1982, 99 mins.

Directed by Alan Parker

Starring Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Christine Hargreaves, James Laurenson, Eleanor David, Kevin McKeon, Jenny Wright, Alex McAvoy / Written by Roger Waters / Cinematography by Peter Bizou

Format: DVD - Sony (MSRP $34.98)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

The only major director who still manages to crank out an occasional musical, Alan Parker has done everything from melodramatic Broadway hits (Evita) to genre-bending feasts of modern rock and soul (Fame, The Commitments), and even downright bizarre concoctions that defy description (Bugsy Malone). However, nothing in his career could have prepared viewers for Pink Floyd The Wall, in which he collaborated with the legendary former Pink Floyd front man, Roger Waters, on a visualization of the group's popular double album. Drawing (perhaps too much) inspiration from Ken Russell's version of The Who's Tommy, Parker and Waters utilized everything from harsh animation by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to grotesque, Bunuel-style surrealism. While many critics dismissed the film as a long, rambling music video, a fervent cult following immediately formed, first at midnight screenings and then on video. Apart from the obvious appeal to drug-addled perceptions, viewers still relish picking apart the seemingly endless layers of symbolism and potential meanings within the music and film, and Sony's long awaited special edition DVD should provide answers to more than a few of those nagging questions.

Told almost entirely through music rather than dialogue, the film begins in a Los Angeles hotel room where Pink (Bob Geldof), a popular rock singer addled by the ravages of fame and substance abuse, wastes away in front of the television and feels his entire life rushing back over him. His father was killed in the war, his mother felt isolated from him, and his wife and agent controlled and manipulated him as a cash cow. Unable to break the wall that separates him from sanity and contact with his fellow human beings, Pink slides further and further into an abyss where he imagines himself as a fascist ruler ordering the destruction of civilization.

Though compelling and often visually dazzling, The Wall definitely isn't a film for every taste. Deliberately downbeat and aggressive, the film constantly hurls confrontational images in the viewer's face ranging from grotesque (maggots, chest shaving, bloody riots) to brilliantly twisted (kids being ground up into beef). Unlike Tommy, which charts a similar personal course from a single man's exploitation to an ultimate realization of himself, The Wall offers little actual redemption in the end, only the basic message that "the wall" must be torn down. Several of the song setpieces work beautifully ("Another Brick in the Wall Part II," most obviously, along with "Comfortably Numb"), while others go on far too long and wear out their welcome. While many of the film's cultists cite this as the ultimate fusion of film and music, Parker's style was obviously still in its early stages. Future efforts like Birdy and Angel Heart also managed to bury numerous layers of meaning within a simple storyline far more effectively, and he managed to develop a firmer grasp of how to modulate viewers' emotions without bashing them over the head. For this reason, The Wall functions best as a sort of musical rough draft for what was to come -- not a masterpiece, but a crucial installment in early '80s cinema all the same. Geldof (former lead singer of the Boomtown Rats - remember them?) does an excellent job with a very diffcult part, singing himself in several numbers and communicating 90% of his role through his dynamic, expressive eyes. The other actors function more as archetypes than flesh and blood human beings, though horror fans should look for an early, very naked appearance by the willowy Jenny Wright, who went on to bloodsucking fame in Near Dark.

Sony's ambitious DVD represents a great deal of hard work, and happily it all paid off. The anamorphic transfer instantly wipes the previous letterboxed laserdiscs from MGM out of one's memory, while the refurbished Dolby Digital soundtrack offers a spacious soundscape, devoted as much to ambient effects and Michael Kamen's sensitive orchestrations as to the songs themselves. Parker, Waters, and Scarfe contribute on numerous levels throughout the disc, from their engaging feature-length commentary (surprisingly witty and playful, considering the morbid nature of the film) to the excellent new two part (of course) documentary, Retrospective: A Look Back at The Wall. All three offer insights ranging from the philosophical to the technical, including their own theories of how to analyze the film's avalanche of symbols. Also included is a less impressive half hour "behind the scenes" piece made back in 1982; it's better than the average studio featurette but nothing terribly profound or revealing. One intriguing bonus is the excised "Hey You" number, presented in black and white rough cut form; it's easy to see why the song was cut out, as it would have quickly dragged the film to a halt. Other bonus materials range from the theatrical trailer (the same one from the laserdisc) to a music video for "Another Brick" aired back in the infancy of MTV.

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