Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Trance has us hallucinating.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Narrative films don’t come much trippier than Pink Floyd: The Wall, a feature-length visualization of Pink Floyd’s 1979 double concept album, The Wall. It often takes a couple of viewings to parse out its story, and to fall in line with its hideous animated imagery, which runs along a handful of specific visual motifs to tell a metaphorical story. On first viewing, it’s an overwhelming assault of monstrous animated orifices, marching fascist hammers, and faceless children being ground into wet pink sausage. It ends with a cartoon trial in which the defendant is a deflated ragdoll and the judge is a immense pair of buttocks, talking through its rectum, with a wobbly rear-view scrotum for a chin. But as nightmarish as the visuals get, there’s a strong narrative line running through it all, and the kind of attention to detail and symbolism that rewards repeat viewing.
Director Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Angel Heart, The Commitments) has said that Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters always considered The Wall a film in the making, and had a clear vision of what he wanted from the cinematic version; that vision was so clear that the film’s production was notoriously troubled, with Parker repeatedly threatening to quit over clashes with the dictatorial Waters. The resulting film feels small, grimy, and claustrophobic in its live-action scenes, as an alienated, depressed, violent rock star (played by Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof, after screen tests showed he worked better on film than Waters) contemplates the wall of isolation he’s built around himself. The film follows the key elements of his life in flashback: dead father, smothering mother, grinding humiliation at school, marriage and misery and divorce, unfulfilling materialism and distancing fame. (Some of this directly mirrors Waters’ own life, though some of it—particularly the moment when Geldof shaves off all his body hair—was inspired by Waters’ former bandmate Syd Barrett.) Eventually, he drinks himself into a stupor, only to be drugged by a mercenary manager (Bob Hoskins) and sent spiraling into a wild hallucination where he’s a Hitler-esque leader of a fascist white-supremacist movement, impermeable to emotion and weakness.
But the most visually striking parts of Pink Floyd: The Wall are the gonzo animated sequences by British political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, which open up Parker’s grainy miserablist world into an unbounded nightmare space. There, Geldof’s character becomes a tiny, pink victimized thing, bullied and nearly consumed by outlandish monster versions of his mother, wife, and teacher. Not all the hallucinogenic material comes during the animated scenes—the “Another Brick In The Wall” sequence is particularly famous for its memorable images of a British school as a meat-processing factory. But in either mode, the film is the original “movie as drug trip.” Watched late at night in the dark, it’s its own mind-altering experience.
Availability: On DVD, and available for rental from Netflix.