The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii


This is one of the few times I have had a completely fresh experience with some classic material. There were no expectations coming into it. All I had heard was that these versions of the songs were quite good. I recently found a copy of the DVD at my local video store, and spent an evening with Pink Floyd.

The debate about whether the DVD is as good as the original film is irrelevant. With the DVD you get both. In essence, that does make it superior. That is all I have to say about that issue.

The original is a surprising piece of work. It is not an actual concert setting. This is a film of the band performing some very engaging music, in an unusual setting. The ruins of Pompeii (more specifically the amphitheater) seem to make a good setting. The mood is set by natural light, and a sense of the ancients making up the audience. There are a couple of segments that were filmed in Paris (“Careful With that Axe Eugene,” and “Mademoiselle Nobs”). The latter is a reworking of “Seamus” with a live dog giving a virtuosic performance. The music is drawn from “Meddle,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “Ummagumma” With the band now in its prime, only “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” seems a bit dated. However, the strength of the song soon makes you forget that. There are also added shots of the band walking around steaming mud baths, ancient artwork, and exploding volcanoes. It is all very engaging, but there are drawbacks. The titles are very poorly done, and look as dated as they are. Most of the focus is on Nick Mason. This is not a large problem, since he is electrifying. However, it would have been nice to see more of the other guys (something the director says as well). In actuality, it is really not much more than an early form of the music video. The superiority lies in the fact that they actually played the music.

The new version is far more interesting. All of the performances are there, along with added visuals, new titles, and interviews. Unfortunately there are no added shots of the other band members, as all of the original extra footage was lost. The space shots are very cool, and add much to the feel of the thing. The only thing I didn’t like was the computer-generated images of Pompeii. It looks as phony as it is. Earlier, there was some stock footage of a town being ravaged by a volcanic eruption. This was a much more effective device.

The main interest is the documentary footage, and is what turns this into a complete film. There are many insights into the band through this. You get a sneak peek at the beginnings of the new album (did it end up doing very well?). I was surprised by the self-awareness is present in a comment about the band being in a formative state for the previous four years. A recurring theme is the relationship of the band members. They all profess to be getting along nicely, but body language tends to belie a certain amount of tension. Gilmour comes off as still being a bit of an outsider at times, and the old specter of Syd seems to be present.

The interviews are also a great source of quotes.

“We’re in danger of becoming a relic of the past.” – Nick Mason (pre “Dark Side of the Moon”)

“I think we’re ever so progressive, and evolve between every record.” – David Gilmour

“I like to think oysters transcend national barriers.” – Roger Waters

“People think of us as a very drug orientated group. Of course, we’re not.” – David Gilmour (with a smirk)

All in all, I think this is a terrific video package. It is a great showcase of a band just entering its maturity. The exacting nature of their work is thoroughly expressed. They were on the brink of international superstardom, and they look ready. Any doubt about Pink Floyd’s abilities  can be put to rest with this.

Live at Pompeii: 1971 / 2003

Live at Pompeii: 1971 / 2003

David Gilmour – guitars, vocals
Nick Mason – drums
Roger Waters – bass, vocals
Richard Wright – keyboards

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