The Wall: Photofest
August 15, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

When ”Pink Floyd the Wall” opened on Aug. 6, 1982, moviegoers were flabbergasted by its sledgehammer visual approach, frenetic style, and utter lack of dialogue. But no one would have guessed that the psychodrama really had its beginnings with a 1977 concert at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium where Pink Floyd’s lyricist/ bassist Roger Waters spat on a fan, which he later admitted was a rather fascist thing to do.

Intrigued by his own fascistic impulse, Waters gave expression to the theme in ”The Wall,” which tells the sad story of Pink (played by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof), a rock star who, upon finding himself estranged from society, sinks into a catatonic haze rife with images of children being fed into a meat grinder, a man-eating flower in sexual congress, and himself as a Hitler- like demagogue.

Of course, the movie is based on Pink Floyd’s 1979 concept album ”The Wall.” Its hit single ”Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” sent cries of ”We don’t need no education” hurtling through high schools. In 1980, Waters and animator Gerald Scarfe began plotting a movie. They were soon joined by director Alan Parker (”Fame”). Parker’s mission: Translate the album into a hyperkinetic, surreal film.

Easier said than done. Production on the $10 million flick started in late 1981, and England’s Pinewood Studios was haunted by rows and walkouts for months. ”It was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had working on a film, mostly because of Roger,” admits Parker. ”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.”

When ”Pink Floyd The Wall” finally hit theaters, both critics and audiences were taken aback (Roger Ebert has championed it as ”one of the great modern musicals,” while Steven Spielberg reacted with indifference at a Cannes Film Festival screening). The film eventually grossed $22.2 million domestically and was considered a box office failure.

To many devotees, its commercial misfire was irrelevant. They argued that its blazing visions were years ahead of their time, a theory confirmed by the film’s cult status and the explosive success of its formative MTV aesthetic.

Parker and Waters haven’t spoken since their work on ”The Wall.” Parker went on to make another musical with a rock star at the center: 1996’s ”Evita.” As for Waters, he’s rumored to be tinkering with a stage version of his opus, giving fans hope of yet another brick in ”The Wall.”

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