…you’ve seen their Live at Pompeii video. This is the ultimate Floyd experience. To hell with the fancy laser light shows, the giant disco ball in the center of huge arenas, the massive video wall behind the band, the stage so far away from the crowd you need binoculars in the front row…this is Pink Floyd up close and personal, playing their very best songs. It also features studio clips of the band recording the “Dark Side of the Moon” album, interspersed between the live songs.
At the opening notes of “Echoes” (a 23-minute number that is split into two parts in this film, bookending the movie), we see footage of the road crew setting up in the center of an ancient amphitheater in the ruins of Pompeii, Italy. By the time the song begins to take shape, the band is set up and playing and the only audience is their crew.
Throughout the film, we are given eerie shots of the Pompeii ruins, smoldering craters, steaming pools of bubbly goo, and walking (or sometimes running) amongst all this are Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason, in a somewhat reminiscent (but much more abbreviated) style of the Beatles’ films. We also see shots of ancient artwork from the city. All of this fits in so perfectly with the music; it will blow your mind. Seriously.
“Echoes” is followed up by “Careful With that Axe Eugene,” a song that has such a violent climax that only an erupting volcano would visually represent it. Well, that’s exactly what you get in this film – footage of exploding lava as Waters belts out the howling wail that trademarks the song.
The other live tracks are “A Saucerful of Secrets,” “One of These Days,” “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” “Mademoiselle Nobs” (known as “Seamus” on the Meddle album), and the second half of “Echoes” closes out the film.
Each time I’ve seen the movie I notice something new. There are so many weird subtleties and quirky visuals, from Waters’ gross veins popping out of his arm during the recording of “On the Run,” to the film’s director Adrian Maben’s infatuation with drummer Nick Mason during “One of These Days.” The camera is on Mason for I’d guess 98% of the song. It’s quite odd.
“Mademoiselle Nobs” features an actual live puppy dog recording the howling parts, and one of the great visuals is Waters smashing the giant gong during “Set the Controls…” with the sun directly behind him.
A really trippy part of the film is hearing Rick Wright record part of the piano on “Us and Them.” We hear in the background the rest of the song, while he adds piano flourishments – but what we are hearing in the background is what he’s hearing in his headphones. I guess if you’re sober it’s not that trippy.
There are a couple of scenes in a diner with the band, and we learn about how much Nick Mason hates crust on his pie (“Tell them I want a middle piece,” he asks. “They don’t have the square kind, only the round,” he is told. “Then I’ll just go without,” he decides). There is also a short interview with Mason and an obviously stoned Gilmour, who practically winks at the camera when he says that the Floyd are “not a drug band.” It’s quite amusing.
From a technical standpoint, the music sounds incredible – you can hear each instrument clearly, which ironically does not benefit the band as individual musicians. Aside from Gilmour, the other members are not virtuosos; in fact, if you single out Waters’ bass playing or Wright’s keyboard, they don’t sound that talented. But when combined together, the songs are pure gold.
In the end, what the film does best is capture Pink Floyd at the end of one phase and the start of another. With the release of “Dark Side of the Moon,” we see the band abandon the psychedelic sound for a more mainstream one, and the cessation of the long, progressive tracks that defined their early sound. This may be why they chose Pompeii, a place where every person – an entire society – was wiped out by a volcano; it represents the end of an era for them, musically speaking. The film is ultimately a time capsule for one of the world’s greatest bands.
P.S. A cool little visual tribute to this film can be found in the Beastie Boys’ video for their song “Gratitude” (check it out on YouTube).
Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii gets 5 out of 5 stars