“The Other Side of The Wall”: A behind-the-scenes look at Roger Waters and Alan Parker’s 1982 film, “The Wall”

By on September 22, 2016

On September 28, 1982, viewers watching “Night Flight” that evening were able to see a 25-minute documentary about the making of the Pink Floyd – The Wall, released into theaters during the first week of August ’82, three years after the release of the band’s double LP of the same name. You can watch it too, in the second hour of the full episode we’re featuring right now on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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The Other Side of The Wall — directed by Barry Chattington, and narrated by David Healey — provided a behind-the-scenes look at the conception, design and live shows of The Wall performed by Pink Floyd in 1980 and 1981 (including footage of The Wall being performed at Earl’s Court in 1980).

The doc is chock-full of interviews with the film’s director, Alan Parker, and its star, Bob Geldog, in addition to interviews with Mark Fisher (stage designer), Jonathan Park (stage designer), Gerald Scarfe (animation designer and director) and in-depth early-80s era interviews with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

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Ray Corbett (first assistant director), Alan Parker (director) and John Stanier (camera operator)

The film’s origins can be traced back to a concert that Pink Floyd gave in July 1977, during the band’s final date on their “In The Flesh” tour, at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and to a particular moment when Pink Floyd’s bassist (and chief lyricist) Roger Waters spat on a fan who was with a group of noisy fans near the stage.

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It had apparently been a tough slog of a tour and this final concert had proved very difficult for the band (in fact, guitarist David Gilmour refused to come back onstage for their planned encore to play two of their best-loved songs, “Money” and “Us and Them,” from their Dark Side of the Moon album, leaving the rest of the band to vamp their way through a slow, sad twelve-bar blues track while the audience screamed out the names of the songs they didn’t get to hear).

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Waters had had a particularly tough time that night and ended up going to the hospital after the show, after injuring his foot while “play-fighting” backstage with the band’s manager, Steve O’Rourke.

He expressed that the tour had left him feeling alienated and he told music producer Bob Ezrin and a friend of Ezrin’s a psychiatrist — who was catching a ride in the same automobile — that he hated playing stadium shows and had wanted to isolate himself onstage by constructing a wall across the stage between the band and their audience.

Waters said he later realized and fully admitted that spitting on of their fans was a rather “fascist” thing to do, but he began mulling over his feelings and the impulse behind spitting on a fan, and ideas began to come to him which he set down on paper as lyrics for their next album.

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He soon began to realize that he was writing about his own childhood — and also the early life of his one-time bandmate Syd Barrett — and soon realized that the songs were taking shape and presenting themselves as a story which was taking place in war-torn London after World War II.

The songs had a protagonist and authority figures and there was also something about the loss of a father (Waters own father had died during the war, in 1944, when he was just five months old).

Waters began to explore his protagonist’s self-imposed isolation after years of post-traumatic stress, and began writing about a “wall” which conceptually could be used as a metaphorical and theatrical device.

When the band reconvened in July 1978, a full year later, Waters presented them with two new ideas, both of them for concept albums, but the band chose the first of these two, which had a working title of Bricks in the Wall.

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The band hired producer Bob Ezrin, and he and Waters shaped the concept into a 40-page script, which was again presented to the band members, who undoubtedly realized that Waters’ main character, named “Pink,” was based on their old friend and former lead singer/guitarist Syd Barrett.

The recording of the album’s twenty-five tracks would take nearly a full year — between December 1978 and November 1979 — and the resulting double album, the band’s eleventh studio effort, was released on November 30, 1979.

It was the last album to feature the key lineup of Waters, Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright, who left the band after its release.

Propelled by the hit single, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” — with its popular schoolroom chant “We don’t need no education” — the album sold well, and became one the band’s best-selling catalog titles, and within a few months, Waters and animator Gerald Scarfe were already having discussions about making it into a movie.

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Scarfe — who created the iconic illustrations for both the album and the film — was well known for his single-panel political cartoons, and his surreal, satirical drawings perfectly capture the traumatic events in the hero’s life which form the metaphorical “bricks in the wall'” of his isolation — like the death of his father in World War II, the smothering behavior of his widowed mother and his mistreatment by his teachers.

These animation sequences — fifteen of them — were to be scattered throughout the film.

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The duo were soon joined by director Alan Parker, who developed a screenplay based on the album’s songs (and Waters’ 40-page concept script) as a surreal tale about a sad man named “Pink” — played by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof — who, as a popular rock star (much like Waters himself) who finds himself isolated and estranged from society, sinking into a catatonic state and haunted by images of children being fed into a meat grinder, a man-eating flower in sexual congress, and himself as a Hitler- like demagogue.

The film also stars Kevin McKeon as the young Pink, and includes brief appearances by Bob Hoskins and Joanne Whalley.

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Production on the film — budgeted at $10 million — started in late 1981, but almost immediately it was doomed to be one of those difficult film shoots that Parker would later called “on of the most miserable experiences I’ve had working on a film, mostly because of Roger…. It was his miserable life that I was filming. The problem wasn’t over creative differences, just a collision of egos. [Waters] was used to being in control of his world and I was used to being in control of mine.”

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There were arguments and walkouts at England’s Pinewood Studios, where the film was being shot, but of course much of what was happening behind-the-scenes was hidden from the cameras making this documentary film, which we’re sharing with you again in this episode of “Night Flight” which aired nearly two months after the film, officially titled Pink Floyd – The Wall, opened to limited theaters on August 6, 1982.

Pink Floyd The Wall eventually grossed $22.2 million domestically, but it was considered a box office failure, mainly due to the fact that audiences — and film critics — were largely confused by what they’d seen.

Here’s the film’s original trailer:

Although he didn’t write about the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, during its initial theatrical run in 1982, critic Roger Ebert and his television partner and fellow movie critic Gene Siskel gave The Wall “two thumbs up” on their TV show, “At the Movies,” with Ebert describing the film as “a stunning vision of self-destruction” and “one of the most horrifying musicals of all time … but the movie is effective. The music is strong and true, the images are like sledge hammers, and for once, the rock and roll hero isn’t just a spoiled narcissist, but a real, suffering image of all the despair of this nuclear age. This is a real good movie.”

Over the decades since its release, Ebert continued to praise the film and in February 2010, he added The Wall to his list of “Great Movies,” describing the film as “without question the best of all serious fiction films devoted to rock.”

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Below are a few choice excerpts from Roger Ebert’s rather famous online review of the film itself — published on February 24, 2010 — which reveals that he thought The Wall was not necessarily “enjoyable,” due to its disturbing content, but it is nevertheless a fantastic piece of art for us to appreciate.

“Alan Parker, a director who seemed to deliberately choose widely varied projects, here collaborates with Gerald Scarfe, a biting British political caricaturist, to make what is essentially an experimental indie. It combines wickedly powerful animation with a surrealistic trip through the memory and hallucinations of an overdosing rock star. It touches on sex, nuclear disarmament, the agony of warfare, childhood feelings of abandonment, the hero’s deep unease about women, and the life style of a rock star at the end of his rope.”

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“What it doesn’t depict is rock performance. There are no actual concert scenes, although there are groupies and limousines and a personal manager. Or perhaps there are concert scenes, and they’re disguised as an extended portrait of a modern fascist dictator whose fans morph into an adoring populace. I don’t believe this dictator is intended as a parallel to any obvious model like Hitler or Stalin; he seems more a fantasy of Britain’s own National Socialists led by Oswald Mosley.”

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Pink Floyd: The Wall was written almost entirely by Roger Waters, the band’s intellectual, self-analytical, sometimes tortured lead singer. Its central character, named Pink, is played by Bob Geldof, of all people, who could not be less like Pink. The credits say he is being ‘introduced.’ He’s onscreen more than anyone else, goes through punishing scenes, and even sings at times, although this isn’t a performance film but essentially a 95-minute music video. Geldof morphs through several standard rock star looks, all familiar from other stars: The big-haired sex god, the attractive leading man, the haunted neurotic, the cadaverous drug victim. In his most agonizing scene, he shaves off all his body hair in a bloody reprise of Scorsese’s famous short The Big Shave.

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“The best audience for this film would be one familiar with filmmaking techniques, alert to directorial styles, and familiar with Roger Waters and Pink Floyd. I can’t imagine a ‘rock fan’ enjoying it very much on first viewing, although I know it has developed a cult following. It’s disquieting and depressing and very good. No one much enjoyed making it. I remember Alan Parker being somewhat quizzical at the time; I learn from Wikipedia that he fought with Waters and Scarfe and considered the film ‘one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life.’ Waters’ own verdict: ‘I found it was so unremitting in its onslaught upon the senses, that it didn’t give me, anyway, as an audience, a chance to get involved with it.'”

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“So it’s difficult, painful and despairing, and its three most important artists came away from it with bad feelings. Why would anybody want to see it? Perhaps because filming this material could not possibly have been a happy experience for anyone — not if it’s taken seriously. I believe Waters wrote out of the dark places in his soul, fueled by his contempt for rock stars in general, himself in particular, and their adoring audiences. He was, in short, composing not as an entertainer but as an artist. Sir Alan Parker is a cheerful man, although not without a temper, and there is no apparent thread to connect this film with his credits such as The Commitments, Fame, Bugsy Malone or even such heavier films as Shoot the Moon and Angela’s Ashes. I can’t say I really know Parker, but I’ve spent enough time around him to sense he wasn’t congenitally drawn to this material.”

“Those tensions and conflicts produced, I believe, the right film for this material. I don’t require that its makers had a good time. I’m reminded of my favorite statement by Francois Truffaut: ‘I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between.'”

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Roger Waters would end up expressing his dissatisfaction with Parker’s film, saying that he’d left the project several times during its production because he and the director were not seeing eye-to-eye.

In a 1988 interview on Australian radio, Waters said: “I was a bit disappointed with it in the end, because at the end of the day I felt no sympathy at all with the lead character… and I found it was so unremitting in its onslaught upon the senses, that… it didn’t actually give me… as an audience, a chance to get involved with it.”

Have a look at The Other Side of the Wall and see for yourself what went on during the production of Pink Floyd – The Wall, now streaming in this full episode from late September, 1982, on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • John Jones

    I loved it for the very reason the creators hated it. It is unrelenting; it’s unflinching. Perhaps Waters did not relate to the character but as a disaffected youth, I got it. There are wonderful details to be coaxed from the movie still. One example is the opening song played in the background while a maid cleans the hallway. The song is “The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot” by none other than Vera Lynn. There are tons of those little details to be discovered throughout. It’s a masterwork.