The Director's Cut DVD Review
Revisiting Live at Pompeii - PART FOUR
Together with the second and
concluding half of our exclusive interview with director Adrian Maben,
which features many questions set by none other than Storm Thorgerson!
A four part analysis by Paul Powell Jr, with help and suggestions from Adrian Maben.
the sheltering sky a camel caravan slows to a stop to rest beside a
shimmering azure lake. Off in the west, a crimson sunset illuminates a
subtle mosaic of fine wine colors in the horizon, while the camels
drink cool water from the desert oasis. As a Moroccan Bedouin bends
over to fill his canteen with fresh water from the lake, he spots an
unusual object glimmering at the water's edge. Reaching into the water
he carefully retrieves a shiny silver disc and carefully wipes it dry,
reading aloud the printed label to the gathering: "Pink Floyd Live at
Pompeii." As the curious desert group gathers around, the Bedouin now
produces a portable DVD player from his supplies and inserts the disc,
quickly pushing play...
After thirty years of walking
through the sands of time, our curious journey has taken us here to
this magical moment. The Director's Cut of Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii
is a defining moment in this long cinematic journey. For old and new
Floyd fans alike, the classic film we've grown so familiar with has now
been enhanced with wonderful new images carefully blended in to give
Live at Pompeii a whole new perspective. For this, our fourth and final
article in the Revisiting Live at Pompeii series, I'm going to
carefully explore the contents of the new DVD version of this enigmatic
film and dispatch back what I've discovered. Along the way, we'll
examine the often prickly technical process of updating old celluloid
films into the new crisp digital world, have a few laughs with the
Floyd, and finally, wrap up our exclusive interview with Director
The Director's Cut of a film
allows the director of a completed commercial film to go back and
re-incorporate footage left on the cutting room floor (or computer
disc) during the final editing process, and/or to add supplement
footage or effects, to comprise a newly updated vision of the film. The
purpose of the Director of any film, is the responsibility for
everything that occurs on location before the camera including the
action and dialogue, and in the case of Live at Pompeii - the Floyd's
musical performance. With today's computer technology and software,
advanced editing machines, and other digital manipulation of film, the
possibilities are seemingly limitless what can be achieved within the
field of cinematography. However, it comes down to the Directors
artistic vision to make the creative leap of faith to realize a new
version of an old established film. Like a master chef, the less is
more approach often satisfies the senses better than overwhelming them
with too much information. As the Director of a wide range of very fine
documentary films, Adrian Maben has enriched and re-imagined Live at
Pompeii with new ingredients, updating without upsetting the balance of
the original Pompeii film, resulting in a much more entertaining movie
Happily, the Director's Cut of
Live at Pompeii strikes a fine balance between the familiar celluloid
version of the film released thirty years ago and the new crisp digital
version released now on DVD. From the outset, the new version of Live
at Pompeii incorporates dramatic footage of rocket launches to up-close
images of Saturn and her many moons, onwards past our own moon's richly
textured surface, racing past it towards the bright blue earth. Our
interplanetary journey culminates with the aerial shot of Pink Floyd
performing in the ancient amphitheater of Pompeii, interspersed with
transitory images of the International Space Station and a
cloud-enshrouded Mount Vesuvius. The various space footage featured
throughout the new DVD is sourced from NASA, the BBC, the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, European Space Agency, among others. At first, I
had some reservations about the purpose and relevance of the space
footage and simulated computer imagery used throughout the Director's
Cut. However, in subsequent viewings the celestial imagery served as a
fine counterpoint to the terrestrial footage of Pompeii and the glacial
pace of the Floyd's early 70's music. For example, it does not take a
stretch of the imagination to see how the Abbey Road studio version of
"Brain Damage" can merge perfectly into NASA film footage of the 1969
Apollo Moon landing.
As before, the film presents
"Echoes" in all of its grandiosity, now framed in beautiful widescreen
format with crystal clear digital picture quality. It is quite a
remarkable achievement to update an old film to bring it up to current
quality standards. On this new Pompeii DVD, the re-mastering process
has retained the warmth and resolution of celluloid, yet updated it
with greatly cleaner sound resolution and enhanced picture quality. You
will notice right away this new version of Live at Pompeii simply looks
wonderful, clearly devoid of the many respective audio distortions and
celluloid dropouts inherent in older films. Post-production of the new
Pompeii DVD was done on the film industry standard Avid Editing System
using the images that were originally shot in Pompeii on 35mm. The
negative of the original film was then transferred directly onto
digibeta beta tape and fed into the Avid. The original stereo sound was
also enhanced and denoised, revealing a clarity and depth only hinted
at in the original film. I think the overall results here are
outstanding; while complicated and expensive, the digital restoration
and enhancement techniques done by Monteurs Studio in Paris, used to
restore and clean up the original film, presents the classic old Floyd
film in a revealing new light.
Throughout the Director's Cut of
Live at Pompeii, finely crafted segments of computer animation are
tastefully used as to circumvent a myriad of special effects from
overwhelming the film. To illustrate the before and after of Pompeii's
volcanic destruction, subtle animation effects are employed, such as
casting light and shadow on the marble floor and columns from
illuminating rays of sunlight. This quiet moment before the storm
contrasts sharply, both thematically and visually, with the violent
pyroclastic flow of molten lava rolling through Pompeii's city streets.
The objective of the computer animation created by Capware Digital
Video in Naples was to recreate Pompeii and other Italian
archaeological sites in order to make them appear to be as they existed
when they were first built. Another special effect, as discussed below
in reference to the Roman statue morphing into David's face, was a
technique created by a French special effects company in Paris called
Teletota, while some specific computer animations of the planets was
done exclusively in-house by the BBC for Director Maben.
Among the new Floyd material in
this film are a generous amount of black and white footage shot in
France, such as David and Rick laying down vocal overdubbing tracks for
"Echoes." My favorite singular moment in the film occurs early on in
the film during "Echoes Pt. 1," when a special effect technique allows
a profile shot of a Roman statue face to morph smoothly into David's.
This transitory film clip effectively suggests a merging of the past
with the present, and imagines a correlation of mythological Roman gods
with the Rock stars of today. Throughout "Echoes," various shots of
these marble sculptures are tastefully interspersed, giving the film a
classic timeless feel. Originally excavated from the ancient ruins of
Pompeii or Heraculaneum, these beautiful statues now can be found in
the Museo Nazionali de Napoli. Across the history of modern
civilization, it has been whispered Roman gods and Rock stars alike are
imperfect, as candidly illustrated in "Echoes Pt. 1" when David and
Rick jovially screw up their vocal tracks. Further on during "Echoes
Pt. 2" we see more black and white Paris footage of David and Rick
singing in harmony and acappella. The purpose of the "Echoes" studio
sessions were to lay down vocal tracks in order to double up the
quality of the vocal sound in synch with the original Pompeii
recording. While all of the vocal tracks in the Pompeii concert film
are entirely live, this overdubbing techniques gives the vocals a more
meaty presence, a standard recording studio and post-production film
The new cinematography throughout
the Director's Cut of Live at Pompeii is at once breathtaking and
highly imaginative. For example, time lapse aerial views of the
beautiful Bay of Naples seaport harbor contrast sharply with the
restless fury of volcanic terrain, violently spewing red-hot rivers of
liquid rock into the steaming sea. In addition to the old color
interview footage, a generous selection of new black and white
interview footage is tightly integrated into the new film. As noted in
article one in this Pompeii series, the physical absence of Rick is
corrected here in the new DVD with several minutes of candid interview.
Throughout the new black and white interviews, brave attempts by
Director turned interviewer Adrian Maben to elicit straight answers
from David and Roger proves both elusive and humorous, irreverent and
spontaneous. Picture the Floyd enjoying a scrumptious feast on fresh
oysters, and then imagine during this event being interviewed on camera
- at one point Adrian Maben asks: "Do oysters put you in a good mood
for working?" Nick quickly responds: "Adrian, look this has got to
stop! This attempt to elicit conversation out of the chaps is doomed to
failure, they know you're trying to get them to talk!"
A great sense of humor is a
quality most people don't expect from the Floyd. This long-standing
assumption is completely shattered when the oyster eating scene in
question nearly turns into a full-blown Monty Python comedy routine. As
David and Roger continue slurping down the hapless slimy creatures in a
carnivorous eating frenzy, a spontaneous dialogue erupts among David,
Rick and Roger. David, countering a quizzical inquiry from Maben if the
oysters in question were French in origin proclaims: "Well, I don't
know what nationality they are!" Roger sharply follows up with: "I'd
like to think that oysters transcend national barriers Adrian!" In
fact, Director Adrain Maben reveals that during the recording sessions
at Abbey Road for Dark Side of the Moon, the Floyd would often wrap up
recording sessions in order to gather round the television for the
daily episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus on the BBC. And not to
fear - Nick's apple pie eating conundrum in the EMI Abbey Road canteen
remains intact and completely unresolved.
During my recent discussions with
Director Adrian Maben, some new Pompeii film revelations have come to
light - for instance, I was nearly certain all along that the songs
shown in the film (minus the Abbey Road studio sessions) were filmed
entirely in Pompeii. Not so it turns out, the Pompeii pieces that were
filmed in Paris (haunting night scenery you will recall), were "Careful
with that Axe Eugene," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," and
"Mademoiselle Nobs." Also, with the exceptionally rare and brief
exception, the fact is, there are no lengthy interviews with the group
on camera during the 70's. Thus, the interview footage contained within
Live at Pompeii becomes even more poignant; an important milestone in
the Floyd's career. For the recent "Interstellar" exhibition at Paris's
Cite de la Musique, the audiovisual research workers of the Cite looked
tirelessly for on-camera interviews with the Floyd, and the only ones
that they could find are in Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii!
So where are we now? Pink Floyd
Live at Pompeii in all of its juxtaposition of ancient images and
modern technology, music and chat, grandiosity and simplicity,
transcends the documentary or concert performance format to solidify
its position as one of the most successful and influential music films
in cinema history. Don't get me wrong, there is ample room for further
enhancement in a future DVD deluxe edition, if that is the case, such
as engineering that DVD with 5.1 Surround Sound and supplying a nice
book with plenty of unreleased photos and thoughtful essays. Still, the
Director's Cut DVD features a generous selection of goodies to satisfy
most Floyd fans - the original concert film is presented without the
interview footage shown in "normal" television format, plus we get an
insightful 24 minute interview with Director Adrian Maben, a short
history of Pompeii with maps, a photo gallery, song lyrics,
illustrations of press reviews and cinema posters, and more. The
onscreen DVD menus are very easy to navigate and nicely laid out to get
you up to viewing speed in no time. The DVD label is dark red featuring
a distant shot of Mount Vesuvius smoking. The insert is basic yet has
dramatically better graphics and pictures mirroring the disc label and
case design. All this is wrapped up in a classy orange, green and blue
plastic case with illustrations designed by Pink Floyd graphic arts
guru Storm Thorgerson.
The new Live at Pompeii DVD has
certainly been a long time coming for all Floyd fans. It now proudly
joins the ranks with other truly great Rock music films also making the
leap to DVD format - The Band's The Last Waltz (Dir. Martin Scorsese),
Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense (Dir. Jonathan Demme), The Beatles'
Hard Days Night (Dir. Richard Lester), and The Who's The Kids Are
Alright (Dir. Jeff Stein). Presently as we travel along on our intrepid
journey through a media-drenched pop culture, I will say without any
reservation, this new Pompeii DVD is an essential and thrilling
addition to any Pink Floyd collection, and an important document for
popular music historians everywhere. Director Adrian Maben has done a
sterling job with his Director's Cut DVD of Live at Pompeii. Ideally,
the highest compliment you can pay to any creative work of art is the
compulsion to enjoy it again and again. The new Pink Floyd Live at
Pompeii DVD does this and much more, with its imaginative blend of
vivid cinematography and excellent musicality, it simply takes your
...Suddenly the small screen of
the DVD player is saturated by a profusion of crisp images and resonant
sounds, as brand new Pompeii material converges with classic footage.
Destruction and creation play out on a grand scale as the film
progresses. Concurrently, the last rays of the setting sun cast
elongated shadows across the vast desert expanse, revealing subtle
ripples of variegated coral sand. Darkness falls quickly to the delight
of the many nocturnal creatures scurrying about. Deep into the cool
desert night, illuminated only by a trio of flickering campfires, the
new Pompeii DVD spins on and on. From this experience, a collective joy
permeates the desert camp. Above, the night sky is brilliantly
illuminated by a vast panorama of twinkling stars. Camels slumber
quietly. Time disappears. Stillness. Fade to black.
For the remainder of Revisiting
Live at Pompeii article four, we are concluding our extensive interview
with Director Adrian Maben, of which many of the questions were set by
Q: Why were the Floyd so distrustful of the Press?
Adrian Maben: In the
seventies, there were no Pink Floyd interviews with the press and very
few appearances of the band on television. Roger Waters once told me
that when they were touring the States they hired a person specifically
to reply NO to any requests for interviews or talk shows. They didn't
need the press. Indeed the press and television were suspicious - part
of an adult world that was to be ignored or despised.
Of course, the more they refused
an interview the more the press tried to get to them... This was the
Pol Pot quality of the Floyd: remain unseen, enigmatic, don’t let
anyone know who we are. Our private lives and family are nobody else’s
This "keep out of the media
glare" idea extended to publicity for their concerts. As far as I can
remember there were very few posters or advertisements in the press for
their shows - word of mouth was sufficient. Even prior to the Dark Side
of the Moon album, a venue like the Earls Court auditorium could be
filled almost overnight if rumor spread that the Pink Floyd were going
to do a concert there.
One of the consequences of this
distrust of the press was that each individual member of the band could
walk down the street without being recognized. I think that this non
recognition was something that appealed to them - provided of course
that their public concerts could always draw a large crowd.
On the other hand, if you did
manage to get through to them they could be very laid back and
sarcastic. For example, in the black and white whimsical interviews of
The Director's Cut where the four of them refuse to rise to the
"Are you happy with the filming?"
Roger Waters was perhaps the most
unsettling of the four during an interview. Peter Watts, the roadie,
mentioned to me that Syd Barrett was a hundred times worse.
"What do you mean, happy?"
"Well do you think it's interesting?"
After a long pause, "What do you mean, interesting?"
Q: Any notes on the post production?
Adrian Maben: Did they see
a working print of the film? Yes, everything seemed to go down well
except for the transflex shots which they, especially Roger, did not
The editing was done in the
country and because of lack of funds to rent a suitable space the
interciné editing table was in an atelier next to my bedroom. In
retrospect, I think that it's a disastrous idea to have the cutting
room in a house where you live. There should be a distance between the
place where you edit a film and the place where you eat and sleep.
The 1972 Edinburgh Film Festival
was a breakthrough. The reviews were surprisingly good and Pink Floyd
Live at Pompeii, in its first version lasting one hour, was launched.
But why be content with a film on Pink Floyd that only lasts sixty minutes?
Fly fishing with Roger Waters a
year later on the river Teme in Herefordshire we vaguely discussed the
idea of doing an extended version. The band, he told me, was about to
embark on a new recording in the EMI Abbey Road studios.
Roger somehow managed to persuade
the other members of the group and after a few months of telephone
calls, hesitations and cancellations I was invited, with an English
film crew, to film certain parts of the recording of... Dark Side of
In 1974 the second version of the
film lasting eighty minutes was released complete with Dark Side
footage, EMI canteen chit chat (mostly Nick Mason going on about eating
a round piece of apple pie without the crust and Roger expanding on the
subject of what makes a good record producer) and a few straight
interviews of each member of the band.
I tried hard to find a better
title. Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii seemed to me too flat, too
descriptive. I was searching for something more down to earth, more
crunchy. In the end the old title stuck because of the major role of
the city of Pompeii and because it’s something of a pleasant
contradiction to play live in a place that is dead.
Q: What are the best things you remember?
Adrian Maben: The October
light of Pompeii, the slow zooms at the beginning and end of Echoes,
the creative editing of Jose Pinheiro (he later went on to direct his
own films), the black and white footage of the oyster eating and the
overdubbing sessions in Paris, the trivial dialogue about apple pie in
the EMI canteen, the tension before and after the recording of each
piece of music, the stress of getting the shoot to succeed in Pompeii.
As far as I know, Pink Floyd Live
at Pompeii is the only film that shows how the group actually work
together in a recording studio. For example, the overdubbing of Echoes
in Paris, or the making of Dark Side of the Moon in London.
But form, as opposed to content, is equally important.
I think that the rapid pace of
the film, set against the stately zooms and tracking shots, is still
effective today. You have to remember that the original version was
completed in 1972 - light years away from MTV and today's musical
Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii, the first musical video?
Q: What were the worst things you remember?
Adrian Maben: The transflex operator who used two sets of ear plugs and kept on saying, "Why do they have to play so loud?"
The incineration of the original 35mm material: 548 cans of rushes and negative (see later).
The New Yorker critic who hated
the film and wrote: "it was like the size of an ant crawling around the
great treasures of Pompeii," or words to that effect.
Q: Did the Floyd get on well with each other?
Adrian Maben: There was
never the slightest hint of an argument or a problem that could not be
instantly solved. On the contrary, ideas sparked off each member of the
group and were immediately accepted or put down with brutal frankness.
I also remember, with deep
appreciation, their great sense of humour and moments of laughter that
never seemed to end. At times it was almost like being caught up in the
vortex of some kind of Monty Python sketch.
During the interviews we talked
about how they managed to avoid in-fighting. "We have devised various
methods" was Nick Mason’s rather vague reply. And David Gilmour added,
"If you can’t get over that kind of problem, then you go the same way
as all the other groups, don’t you?"
Perhaps Roger Waters summed it up best, "We don’t face up to our difficulties in an adult way, if that's what you mean..."
Q: Was the original film a success?
Adrian Maben: Probably.
The producers kept coming back
asking me to do another film. They said, "How about the Moody Blues
with the Grand Canyon in the background or Deep Purple in front of the
It didn't make sense. It was time to move on and do something else.
Q: Why did you use space footage for The Director’s Cut?
Adrian Maben: Since the
original version of this film was released space probes like Soho and
Voyager have lifted off from earth to investigate the structure and
atmosphere of the Sun, the planets and the moons of our solar system.
Furthermore, Hubble, the space telescope, has taken unbelievably
beautiful photos of the galaxies in outer space.
Surely it is not too far-fetched
to imagine that people or "creatures", living on a distant planet, pick
up some echoes or signals of music that rebound off the stone walls of
an ancient amphitheater?
They set off to investigate. Which is why the spaceship at the beginning of The Director’s Cut lifts off not from the Earth, but towards the Earth...
Today we are saturated with space
imagery and to find shots that are both meaningful and visually
impressive is, surprisingly, not as easy as one might think. After
several conversations with David Gilmour I heard about the Planets
series shot by the BBC and he suggested that I use some of their
footage. As a result, and after the usual negotiations, many of the
opening and closing shots of The Director’s Cut were selected and
adapted from these television programs.
The majority of the special
effects are computer generated but contain an original NASA photo or
film which serves as a starting point for their calculations.
As for the rest of the space
footage, my friend Patrick Hesters asked permission to use some shots
that were found in the NASA video library. The research workers of the
NASA seemed happy to collaborate with us and to see their frames
combined with Pink Floyd music.
Q: What’s the new black and white footage?
Adrian Maben: Several
years ago, when we discussed the possibility of making The Director's
Cut for a DVD (Universal Pictures originally wanted an extended VHS but
they changed their mind later!) the important question was asked about
using the rushes and footage that had been discarded.
While searching in the French and
English film laboratories for the unused negative we learnt of a
disaster. On the initiative of the French Production Company, MHF
Productions, the 548 cans of 35mm negative and prints of the rushes had
been stored at the Archives du Film du Bois d’Arcy outside Paris. One
of the employees, a certain Monsieur Schmidt, "le Conservateur,"
unfortunately decided that he wanted to make extra storage space on his
shelves for more recent films and that the Floyd footage was without
interest or value. The 548 cans of negative and the prints of the Pink
Floyd unused rushes and outtakes were incinerated. INCINERATED!
Depressing, to say the least. And above all how could I make a Director’s Cut with outtakes that no longer existed?
Fortunately I remembered that I
had stored at home, in a big cardboard box, a few cans of black and
white 16mm film that had been shot during the audio mix of the film in
1972. There was some interesting overdubbing of Echoes with David
Gilmour and Richard Wright and some hilarious, tongue in cheek, out of
focus interviews of the band chatting away and making fun of everybody
- including themselves.
The film of those working session
was retained for The Director's Cut because I felt that the snippets of
conversation, the oyster eating banquet and the arguments were scenes
that managed to bring the band down to earth. It's all very well using
space footage and having a group of musicians play in the grandiose
ruins of Pompeii - but, in the long run, it can get out of hand and
become pretentious. The film needed a day to day touch, something more
real that people could relate to...
After having synchronized and
reviewed this vintage footage, the 16mm film was transferred onto
digital beta tape, edited and inserted at suitable points into Pink
Floyd Live At Pompeii.
Probably not as good as resurrecting the outtakes of the original footage but certainly better than nothing...
Q: What about the technical quality of the Director’s Cut?
Adrian Maben: The DVD of
The Director’s Cut was made directly from the 35mm negative of the
intermediate version of Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii released in 1975.
This means that the visual quality is definitely better than that of
the VHS cassettes which were made from 35mm prints.
The stereo sound of The
Director’s Cut has been improved and "denoised." The original sound
tapes still exist (they were not incinerated) so perhaps, one day, a
5.1 surround sound mix of Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii should be made and
distributed with additional photos and a booklet.
A sort of collector's DVD?
For the record, The Director’s Cut
took, on and off, about ten years to complete and would never have been
finished without the sensible advice and considerable patience of Roger
Water’s manager, Mark Fenwick. I was and still am most grateful to him.
The new film now lasts 92 minutes
and contains not only original never-seen-before footage but has also
been given a complete face lift. Each frame has been cleaned, restored
and transformed into the 16/9 aspect ratio.
For the purists who are not
interested in listening to the Floyd chit chat, the original concert
film has also been restored and included in the DVD with its initial
4/3 aspect ratio.
The art work of the DVD cover,
the inside documentation and the DVD menus were created by Storm
Thorgerson, the graphic artist responsible for the sleeves of most of
Pink Floyd's records.
Q: Do you still have any regrets today about the film?
Adrian Maben: Of course.
I still regret today the
transflex shots of the seventies - but it was great to have eliminated
nearly all of them in The Director’s Cut.
I feel sad and depressed about
the incineration of the outtakes and the unused negative footage. Why
do laboratories and cinémathéques behave in this absurd way? They are
supposed to preserve, not destroy, the archives for future
I resent not having been allowed
by Universal to complete the low flying helicopter tracking shots over
Pompeii (it rained the day they were planned) because I had thought of
them as being essential for The Director’s Cut.
I should at least have asked the
members of the band to participate in The Director’s Cut. But no doubt
they would have refused. Perhaps it's better that way?
Q: A conclusion?
Adrian Maben: Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii: a visual scrapbook of music and trivial conversation.
A record of the passing of time.
A film that will never be finished with bits and pieces added here and there over a period of many years.
Thanks To: My Parents for
being so patient and supportive. Margaret and Jeff for their
suggestions and proofreading. Adrian Maben for being engaged in all
areas of this long Pompeii project. Matt for giving me the
encouragement and opportunity to publish my work. Claire at Universal
Studios in London for procuring an advance DVD for me. To Debra with
heartfelt thanks for always inspiring me to ever higher levels of
people were essential for the creation of Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii:
Reiner Moritz, the original executive producer of the film in 1971, and
Mark Fenwick, the executive producer of the Director's Cut. Without
them the two versions of the film would never have been completed.
Special Note: I would also
like to extend get well wishes to Storm for a speedy recovery from
those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Best Wishes old chap!