The Wall: Live in Berlin

Rock stars able to fill football stadiums with paying customers have faced the grave logistical problem of making themselves appear larger than life. When cranking up the volume and lights wasn’t enough, rock’s touring aristocracy turned theatrical, using stage sets, inflatable props, guests, costumes, smoke, fireworks, and film projections. But still they found no lasting solution to human frailty. Roger Waters’ July 21 charity presentation in Berlin of The Wall, an unprecedented outdoor extravaganza that combined all of the above techniques and more, proved that Marshall McLuhan was right about the medium being the message. Leave the bragging rights with the 320,000 fans who were there; video conveys both the awesome enormity of the event and the subtle individual efforts behind it. Arriving on tape in under three months, this potentially grotesque one-night-only spectacle — imagine a film produced by Leni Riefenstahl and directed by Ken Russell — has become durable and compelling video.

Seizing on the ideal historical opportunity afforded by the opening of the Berlin Wall, bassist-vocalist Waters turned Pink Floyd’s conceptually vague and musically dull 1979 concept album (and 1982 feature film) about authoritarianism and isolation into high rock opera on an impossibly epic scale. For two hours an uneven parade of rock notables, including Bryan Adams and Cyndi Lauper, sings the album’s grim lyrics to the accompaniment of a good house band, a symphony orchestra, and a military band. Meanwhile, a crew quietly builds — and, in an anticlimax, demolishes — a 600-foot-long Styrofoam wall.

Produced with the flawless no-second-chance precision of a moon launch, The Wall is an achievement of such vast magnitude that criticisms of the music, message, or performances become meaningless. Shot on tape with crane-mounted cameras for the urgent, unfinished look of news footage, The Wall is not only a fascinating audiovisual document, it represents big-time live music’s video-based future.

The Wall: Live in Berlin
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