by Rachel Brame –
After learning about spectacular news of David Gilmour’s plans to return to Pompeii, Italy after a 45 years for 2 upcoming performances this July, I found it meaningful to take a second look at Adrian Maben’s infamous 1972 film. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the director’s cut of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii so I can’t speak to how it compares with how the shorter theatrical version is edited. From my understanding, the major differences between the two are the incorporation of extra interviews, black and white studio footage recorded in Paris, and some computer generated imagery of what the ruins looked like as fresh contemporary buildings.
Live at Pompeii runs for 92 minutes opening with the ambience of “Echoes Part 1”. A Star Trek inspired sequence travelling through space opens the film and our minds to what’s to come. Shifting from celestial to terrestrial imagery we’re suddenly introduced to David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright jamming out alone with their gear in the desolate Roman amphitheater. It’s a visually powerful contrast to see only the band with their modern electronic gear juxtaposed against their surroundings of abandoned ancient ruins overgrown with vegetation. A nighttime performance of “Careful With That Axe Eugene” is interlaced with footage of violent pyroclastic explosions and steaming rivers of molten lava. Sprinkled throughout this film are shots of Pink Floyd in studio circa 1972 noodling around in Abbey Road with electronic sounds and working on the primordial beginnings of Dark Side of the Moon.
Tightly integrated throughout the movie are wonderfully spontaneous, irreverent, and somewhat elusive conversations with the band. Pink Floyd’s humorous side is still highly underrated since they rarely granted interviews. Off-the-cuff jovial kitchen table chats with the band give a real glimpse into their personalities. As a fly on the wall, we get a whiff of their Monty Python style of humor as David and Roger casually slurp oysters at a feast gathering. When asked by the director if their shellfish were French, David declares, “Well, I don’t know what nationality they are!” Roger quickly and slyly piping in asserts: “I’d like to think that oysters transcend national barriers, Adrian!” In another clip, Roger Waters animatedly displays his talent for blowing smoke rings.
This movie is captivating thematically and visually as this film merges the past and present together into one. It is richly textured and optically stunning. You don’t have to be an Art History aficionado to appreciate the close-ups of the ancient Roman mosaics around the ruins of Pompeii; they’re absolutely exquisite! What’s left of the buildings and civilization at Pompeii are truly something to behold. The breathtaking scenery is as much an integral character to this film as the band is.
Is it surreal and psychedelic? Absolutely, but it’s so much more than that! Pink Floyd is really captured in a transitional moment between being icons of acid rock to leaning more towards progressive experimentation in this film. Admittedly, for non-Floyd fans the director’s cut may prove a bit too self-indulgent and seem too abstract at times. However, for hardcore Pink Floyd fans, anthropology freaks, and volcanologists alike, it’s pure eye candy. Seeing the extensive group footage and spectacular shots of what’s left of structures and scenery at Pompeii is visually arresting and well worth the experience. It transcends the classic concert documentary format completely.
Songs performed in order:
- Echoes Part 1
- Careful With That Axe Eugene
- A Saucerful of Secrets
- Us and Them
- One of These Days
- Mademoiselle Nobs
- Brain Damage
- Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
- Echoes Part 2