Pink Floyd - Live In Pompeii Review
To celebrate the release of this film on DVD, CD Times are hosting a review of Pink Floyd's debut album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, which can be read by following this link.
Originally filmed in early autumn 1971, Live At Pompeii was director Adrian Maben's attempt to capture Pink Floyd on film but as their later success would show, he caught them at a pivotal moment in their career for not only had Meddle been recorded and made ready for release but the material that would eventually form Dark Side Of The Moon was already being taped at EMI's Abbey Road recording studio.
Against the backdrop of the Mount Vesuvius and the deserted streets of Pompeii, Pink Floyd play the songs that had formed, and would continue to form, the cornerstone of their live concerts but performed here for the benefit of Adrian Maben's cameras alone.
When planning Live At Pompeii, Adrian Maben had the idea of removing the audience from the concert in a similar manner to Jonathan Demme's work with Talking Heads on Stop Making Sense. Unlike that later film, however, which did at least allow an audience into the venue, Maben took Pink Floyd into a Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii that was deserted but for a few local kids who sneaked in and sat out of the way. The opening shot of the film, therefore, indicates what is to come, with Maben offering a wide shot of the amphitheatre in which Pink Floyd stand amongst their equipment and play the opening part of Echoes, the epic track that closes Meddle.
What is clearly noticeable and immediately so, is the almost complete absence of both Roger Waters and Rick Wright from the concert footage. As Adrian Maben explains in the interview included on the disc, the footage that was taken of both these members of the group was lost before the film was edited and, unable to rectify the situation, Maben simply edited the film using what footage he had of the group, David Gilmour and Nick Mason. Whilst this absence of footage is noticeable, it is only in a few moments that it really jars, particularly in One Of These Days when Roger Waters has to say the song's only line off screen, being, "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces", as Nick Mason pounds his drums.
Regarding the music, Maben agreed both with Pink Floyd and their management that the band could perform whatever songs they wanted and, having been given this freedom, they produced a set list that mixed their earliest songs from the moment when David Gilmour replaced Syd Barrett, such as Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and A Saucerful Of Secrets, with their later, as-yet-unreleased songs, including Echoes and One Of These Days. Of course, as with the CD Times review of A Piper At The Gates Of Dawn pointing out being Pink Floyd are somewhat more playful and whimsical than they are given credit for, Pink Floyd also offer the otherwise unreleased Mademoiselle Nobs that features Roger Waters on bass, David Gilmour on blues harp and an Afghan Hound on vocals. Clearly the song has little purpose but to see Rick Wright attempting to get a clear performance from a dog has to be seen to be believed.
Of most interest to fans, however, will be the two sequences filmed in Abbey Road, one of which shows Rick Wright adding a piano overdub to Us And Them whilst the other has David Gilmour playing guitar on Brain Damage, both of which would later appear on Pink Floyd's most successful album, Dark Side Of The Moon. In the latter case, however, Gilmour records a guitar part that does not sound as though it made it on to the album but the care with which Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side Of The Moon is evident throughout.
Fans will also be keen on seeing those more informal moments in which Maben interviews the band, who take great pleasure in winding him up. Thankfully, Maben takes Pink Floyd's jibes in good nature, particularly as regards Roger Waters' terribly argumentative yet very charming nature and David Gilmour's claim that Pink Floyd were never a drugs band, a remark made with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek even in admitting that, "You can't trust us..."
Finally, this DVD includes a Director's cut that takes the original footage, which lasts for a little over an hour, and adds a large amount of footage sympathetic to both Pompeii and the themes of space that run through Pink Floyd's work. None of this footage is entirely necessary but it does a good job of building on the themes of the music in the original film to present a more 'complete' work yet one that is also more literal. Best of all is that in addition to this Director's Cut, the DVD also includes the original film that loses approximately thirty minutes of stock footage in favour of keeping only the live and studio sessions.
Given that this DVD offered Adrian Maben the chance to edit Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii into what has been billed as a Director's Cut, he has also taken the opportunity to reframe the original footage from the 4:3 of the original cut for an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. In both cases, the footage is fine if not stunning but Maben does have a flair to framing the band against strong backgrounds of which the band playing in the deserted amphitheatre and Roger Waters banging a gong against the setting sun are the two most notable examples.
As regards the actual picture quality, there is a slight amount of grain but no more than you would expect from live concert footage that dates from 1971 whilst the transfer is better than that seen other concert movies of a similar vintage such as Woodstock.
Despite being given the opportunity to produce a Director's Cut, Adrian Maben either refused or was never given the chance to remix the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack into a 5.1 surround soundtrack. This reviewer's personal preference would be to have the original soundtrack where it is possible and the stereo mix here sounds great thanks, it has to be said, to Pink Floyd themselves who used their own sound engineers and a 24-track mixing desk/tape to record their live performance. Indeed, in a number of instances, such as Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, for example, the live version that is presented here is almost as good, as well as being much longer, than the studio version that was included on Pink Floyd's second album, A Saucerful Of Secrets.
Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii has been released with the following bonus features:
Interview With Adrian Maben (24m11s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This extra features the director of Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii talking about the ideas behind the film and the discussions he had both with the band and their management. Maben goes on to discuss the process of filming in Pompeii - he only had three days both in the streets and the amphitheatre - and the later recordings in Paris and London given the tight schedule to which the band were operating.
This bonus feature is subtitled in all the languages present on the disc.
Photo Gallery (24x Images, 1.78:1 Anamorphic): Against a 1.78:1 backdrop, this extra contains twenty-four images from the concert and studio footage.
Odds 'n' Sods: This bonus feature includes still images categorised into:
- Bootleg Album Covers
- VHS/Laserdisc Covers From Previous Releases Of Live In Pompeii
- Rough Sketches By Storm Thorgerson For The Cover Of This DVD Release
Lyrics (7x Images): This short extra lists the lyrics to both Echoes and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun.
Map And History Of Pompeii (7x Images): This bonus feature contains four pages of text and three maps of Pompeii to summarise the history of the ancient city.
There are a number of clips of the DVD release of Pink Floyd - Live In Pompeii available to view online either in:
Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii will not go down as one of the all-time classic concert films but it really isn't at all bad. Clearly one does have to be a fan of the band to even begin to enjoy this film but even those that count themselves as such might find this is a little slight. Still, a number of the songs performed here are genuinely great, such as Echoes, One Of These Days and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, and the candid footage of the band at work and being interviewed by Maben show a significantly different side to how Pink Floyd had normally presented themselves.
Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii is a fine DVD and comes with a good deal of extras - recommended but really for fans of Pink Floyd only.
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7 out of 10