Live At Pompeii (DVD)

Pink Floyd

Hip-O, 2003

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


By 1972, Pink Floyd had contributed to three film scores, providing the complete soundtrack for two of those films. The progression to being in a film themselves was inevitable. Pink Floyd was always best served up in a multimedia format, and their studio recordings are only part of the Floyd experience. The true power of this band can only be adequately experienced through a live performance. Documentary filmmaker Adrian Maben knew this, and took great pains to come up with the proper venue and theme to do them justice. Maben set out to avoid the current trend of the time, in concert films like Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, which often emphasized the enormity of the event and often lingered overmuch on the crowds and "the scene." His ideal was a more intimate portrait, and a focus on the band and their musical vision.

The location chosen, the ancient amphitheatre in the ruined city of Pompeii, turned out to be perfect for two reasons. One, the physical setting itself. The amphitheatre is remarkably intact, having avoided almost entirely the consuming mud and ash that buried the city, and it still displays many carvings, frescoes and mosaics displaying daily life of the period, gladiatorial conquests, historical events and erotica. It also has retained most of its original structure. Second, the natural acoustics of the site proved to be nearly perfect.

The live performances are stellar, capturing this band literally at the peak of their career as a live act. Interspersed with the footage of the band are many images of Pompeii and the amphitheatre. Some of these are especially effective when juxtaposed with the often dark and eerie music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This film serves as an important legacy of the first half of the bands career. Despite being dated by today's standards, the quality of the cinematography is excellent and full of rich detail. Maben's camera work is impeccable, even if his subject matter often lingers overlong on the same subject. That music as film was very new is important to put the style and resulting film in perspective. This was long before MTV dictated what visual music performance should look like, and you essentially get footage of a band performing, often with long, languorous scenes of fingers on frets or keys, or an extended sequence of Nick Mason drumming.

The visual experience makes the songs have new impact regardless of how many times you've heard the original recordings. For one thing, the live performances outshine the studio originals. Additionally, seeing the songs performed live adds dimension. "A Saucerful of Secrets," which I once called "12 minutes of disjointed chaos," becomes a performance piece as much as musical composition. For some reason watching it being played made me appreciate the piece much more than listening to it ever had before. Maben's visuals help accent the music as well, for example the creepy intensity of "Careful With That Axe Eugene" is intensified when interposed with the visuals of volcanoes exploding, a nod to the cataclysm that destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D.

Interspersed with the live performance footage are interviews with the band done by Maben, some which are essentially breakfast table banter and arguments with Roger Waters, who at the time hated being interviewed, and is notorious for baiting interviewers. Despite their seeming lack of focus, these conversations reveal some interesting aspects of the band's philosophy. Also included is footage of the band at Abbey Road studios recording Dark Side Of The Moon. Most intriguing is footage of Waters twiddling with an ancient (then new) synthesizer, creating the surging waves of sound that would eventually become "On The Run" from Dark Side. The film also includes footage of the band in and around Pompeii, exploring the architecture and the volcanic mud pits that surround the area.

This landmark film was re-released on a director's cut DVD in 2003. Included are the original theatrical film plus a separate full length directors cut that expands the original film with new visuals and special effects, and adds expanded interview footage not seen in the original. Also included is a cornucopia of bonus goodies that should delight any Floydian.

Live At Pompeii has retained its importance and developed a strident following of music fans and film buffs alike. It's not unusual to see it on the marquee of art house and university theatres to this day, and it never seems to lack an audience on these occasions. If you are lucky enough to have it shown locally, seeing it on the big screen is a must. However, the rest of us can see it on the small screen in Maben's original incarnation plus his future vision, created 30 years after the original, on the director's cut DVD, in luscious Dolby stereo.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hip-O, and is used for informational purposes only.