There are three different versions of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, because director Adrian Maben has significantly recut the movie twice, so these comments do not regard the original 1972 version, which was only one hour in length. Rather, these comments pertain to the 2003 “director’s cut,” which is sometimes marketed as Echoes: Pink Floyd. What compelled Maben to tweak his work? Not least among the reasons is that Pink Floyd recorded and released The Dark Side of the Moon, one of the most successful albums in history, a year after Live at Pompeii hit UK theaters. In 1974, Maben expanded the movie for its U.S. release by including newly filmed documentary footage of the band recording Dark Side tracks. Three decades later, Maben altered the movie again by adding CGI effects and outer-space shots, the better to visually complement the band’s trippy sound. So while the “director’s cut” does not purely reflect the filmmaker’s original 1972 vision, it’s the richest incarnation of the film, especially for viewers who are not diehard Floyd fans.
The core of all three versions, of course, is the Pompeii footage. The band’s four members circa 1971—bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, guitarist David Gilmour, and keyboardist Richard Wright—convened inside an ancient amphitheater to perform several tunes while cameras rolled. Juxtaposing modern technology with surroundings from antiquity, Maben shot the band without an audience, so the only things onscreen besides the band and the decaying amphitheater are instruments, speakers, and the film crew. (Maben often cuts to wide shots in which camera operators are visible, than transitions to the angles taken from those camera positions—all very meta in a ’70s, mind-expansion sort of way.) Any record of an important band in its prime has inherent interest, so even if the tunes in the Pompeii footage are somewhat arcane (e.g., “A Saucerful of Secrets,” etc.), the band’s coldly professional musicianship is front and center.
The Dark Side material, featuring fragments from “Brain Damage,” “On the Run,” and “Us and Them,” is perhaps even more interesting, though Maben’s languid cutting style can be infuriating—he’s a big one for lingering on things just a little too long. And what’s with flourishes like the shot of a volcano spewing? Buried amid the stylized visuals are off-the-cuff moments from the Dark Side sessions, during which band members hang out and hold forth. Worthy of special note are these casual remarks from Waters about then-new advances in recording technology: “More and more now, there’s all kinds of electronic goodies which are available for people like us to use if we can be bothered. . . . it’s all extensions of what’s coming out of our heads.” From your lips to the world’s ears, man.
Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii: FUNKY