Pink Floyd's The Wall is considered by many to be one of the best albums ever produced by one of the greatest artists of all time. The corresponding live show has been called an experience like no other, and the film of the same name is a surrealist incubus that draws from both the album and the concert experience. Stories from behind the scenes of The Wall were crazy enough to warrant a feature-length documentary called Pink Floyd: Behind the Wall, directed by Sonia Anderson and released in 2011.
Based on Pink Floyd's classic 1979 album, which followed hits including Dark Side of the Moon and Animals, Pink Floyd - The Wall features a screenplay by vocalist and bassist Roger Waters and was inspired by the band's elaborate live performances of the concept album. The cinematic story of The Wall follows a rockstar named Pink who sinks into isolation and madness before eventually rising to power as a megalomaniacal demagogue, all the while constructing a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) wall around himself. The film was directed by Alan Parker and features animated sequences by Gerald Scarfe, who also contributed artwork to the album cover and live show.
By the time he was brought on board Pink Floyd - The Wall, British director Alan Parker already had an impressive reputation in Hollywood thanks to films like Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, and Fame. In fact, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour once called Midnight Express Alan Parker's Dark Side of the Moon, which Parker found "very flattering."
Parker was reluctant to take the reins of Pink Floyd - The Wall, however, and later told the press he shouldn't have agreed to do it. While he has since said he is proud of the results, he also recalled, "The making of the film was too miserable an exercise for me to gain any pleasure looking back at the process." Creative clashes between himself, lyricist Roger Waters, and animator Gerald Scarfe were the principal source of Parker's displeasure.
Parker described their dynamic tersely: "Three megalomaniacs in a room, it's amazing we achieved anything."
Pink Floyd - The Wall does not tell a coherent story. In a 2003 interview, Alan Parker said, "We all thought it was a load of old tosh." He alleged Roger Waters, the creative force behind the project, was "the only person in the whole world who actually knows what it's all about."
But it turns out Waters himself is not clear on the concept of his creation. "The film gets so odd," Waters said in a 1982 interview. "I don't know what I'd call it."
Alan Parker recalled his first meeting with Roger Waters, during which Waters played him snippets of demo tapes for The Wall he had recorded at his house in the country. "These were raw and angry," Parker said of the tapes, "Roger's primal scream." He added that the tapes are "at the heart of [the film]."
Parker and Waters clashed over creative differences on set. Parker described Waters' approach as "autocratic... control over the entire proceedings." He has since said he is proud of the film, which "still stands the test of time." Parker has made sure to give Waters his due, insisting, "You [cannot] escape Roger's... black heart at the center of the original work."
Before Alan Parker agreed to direct The Wall, he was attached to the project as a producer, while directing duties were entrusted to cinematographer Michael Seresin (who worked with Parker on Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, and Fame) and Gerald Scarfe. The film was supposed to include substantial concert footage of the band performing The Wall, but attempts to film five separate shows at Earl's Court in London didn't yield the footage they needed.
"Michael and [Gerald] didn’t gel as directors, or even realize what exactly they should be doing," Parker later observed. Eventually, Seresin left the project and the film's concept was revised. There was no concert footage and the Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof replaced Roger Waters as Pink. They even re-recorded the original songs, turning Pink Floyd - The Wall into a more abstract concept piece.