Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii
Live at Pompeii was conceived as an “anti-Woodstock” film. Shot in 1972, within the ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre a unique mood and setting is immediately established – there is no audience beyond the film crew and technicians. This, is an eccentric and remarkable innovation that is particularly suited to Pink Floyd’s explorative fusion of avant-rock and the original cut is one of the great pieces of musical film from the era.
Audience of Ghosts
The original Live at Pompeii cinematography is majestic, and measured – slow and deliberate – there is an uncommon sense of real time. We find the Floyd, with a vast collection of equipment – including grand piano, gong, two leslies, a Hammond plus a wall of WEM speaker cabinets, alone and isolated playing to an audience of ghosts – there is an ominous tension between their music and the disquieting and lonely silence of the aching ruins.
Pink Floyd – Echoes
After a disturbing sequence featuring the ghostly remnants of the unearthed city the film begins with Pink Floyd’s epic cut “Echoes” from the album Meddle.
What is immediately apparent is that drummer Nick Mason is going to be explosive throughout; the huge breakdown, into a mean and archetypal, psych-rock groove is the Pink Floyd at their propulsive and characteristic best – alchemical, elemental. Gilmour’s Stratocaster kicks into hi-octane, overdrive.
Careful with that Axe, Eugene
The dark and delicate beginnings of “Careful with that Axe, Eugene”, within a cluster of glowing orbs and interspersed with explosive volcanic footage illustrates Pink Floyd’s mastery of dynamics, stringing out the tension – for such an emotive and “entheogenic” ensemble they tend not to overplay, or fall into self indulgence.
Saucerful of Secrets
“Saucerful of Secrets” is perhaps the most immediate sequence in the film with the band attacking their instruments to create a discordant and noisy, ‘musique concrete’.
David Gilmour’s ‘cigar tube’ slide attack feeds into the Binson Echorec (click here to find out more and to buy a Binson Echorec) on the dirt floor of the amphitheatre, which he manipulates, whilst the rest of the band set about smashing everything in an eloquent, art-noise riot which subsides gently among the ruins, into Rick Wright’s elegaic Hammond lines and concludes with Gilmour’s lament.
This is perhaps the most poignant sequence in the film showing an instrumental ensemble at the height of their emotional power – even without visionary songsmith Syd Barrett they could still create unique language.
One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces
The monstrous and absolutely quintessential Pink Floyd cut “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”, taken from the album Meddle, begins with the band bathed in the silvery Pompeii night. Nick Mason’s tour de force drumming is exceptional – Gilmour’s slide cuts through it like a scythe.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
With the pseudo-oriental slow burn psychedelia of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, the influence of Barrett can still be felt – it’s an inspiring performance from Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright.
The biggest surprise in the film is the lighthearted blues interlude “Mademoiselle Nobs” whose howling vocalist, is not the famous Wolf, but a Russian Wolfhound dog. David Gilmour blows a surprisingly good harmonica.
Echoes, Part Two
The monumental final performance of the opus “Echoes, Part Two” closes the movie – David Gilmour’s gracefully spacious, blues guitar fading away with Richard Wrights key’s.
The ORIGINAL edit of the Live at Pompeii film perfectly captures the band at their elemental peak blending analogue science with some of their strongest material – avant garde enough to remain exciting, musically sophisticated whilst being listenable, psychedelic yet with an edgy, explosive rock quality.
Neither the film nor the music are over conceptualized, nor over produced; raw, real, tangible and highly engaging this film is an essential insight into why Pink Floyd stood beyond their contemporaries and changed rock music forever. At the time Pink Floyd were, together with CAN one of the greatest “progressive” rock groups on Earth.
OF course the Floyd went onto became an enormous touring and production colossus and after Roger Waters’ acrimonious departure almost a David Gilmour solo project.
The Directors Cut: “Eggs Sausage Chips and Beans and a tea”
The directors cut is a disappointment and should be avoided – collectors only.
Stretching and bloating the original edit with footage of dreamlike C.G.I. outer space sequences reminiscent, but incomparable to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
These are interspersed with interviews and more candid footage of the band enjoying breakfast, oysters and beer plus extra footage from the Dark Side of the Moon studio sessions.
The original coherence and unity of the Live at Pompeii film is irrevocably lost through the addition of this extra material. For the Pink Floyd collector there is plenty of fly-on–the wall material and some amusing dialogue and interview with the band.
Nick Mason quite amusingly suggests that The Floyd are almost already an anachronism, an echo from the 1968 London underground.
Defending the Floyd’s overt use of “technology” David Gilmour says:
“The equipment isn’t actually thinking of what to do any of the time – it couldn’t control itself” which Roger Waters extrapolates further, quite succinctly with a classic Eric Clapton metaphor:
“It’s like saying give a man a Les Paul and he becomes Eric Clapton. It’s not true.”.
Watch the original first.