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Adrian Maben (Live At Pompeii) - 2003 - with Brain Damage Print E-mail

Exclusive interview with Adrian Maben, 2003, with Brain Damage's Paul Powell Jr and Matt Johns. Some of the questions were set by none other than Storm Thorgerson!

Q: How did Mademoiselle Nobs get done?

Adrian Maben: During the shoot in Paris, which took place in the spring of 1972 in order to patch up some of the holes that had been left in the Pompeii live footage, the group decided that they wanted to do a howling dog blues sequence. Could I find a sensitive dog - preferably an Afghan - that would "howl" when the harmonica was played? I had no idea about singing dogs but I did remember Madonna Bouglione, the thirty year old daughter (niece?) of the circus director Joseph Bouglione, who was known to walk around the streets of Paris with an Afghan hound named Nobs. Could the dog do the trick?

Madonna came to the Studios de Boulogne in the outskirts of Paris pulling behind her on a lead the nervous looking, skinny Nobs. David played the harmonica, Roger the acoustic guitar and Rick kept the hound on the table and pointed the microphone in the right direction. As it turned out Nobs was pretty much in tune. By the time the film was released she had become a star...

Q: How was the city of Pompeii chosen as the site for your live footage? Why Pompeii and not Croydon?

Adrian Maben: The original idea in 1971 was to make a film and use contemporary paintings or sculptures by de Chirico, Delvaux, Magritte, Tinguely and Christo in some kind of surrealistic decor. I naively thought that it would be possible to combine good art with Pink Floyd music.

There was a rather embarrassing first meeting in London with Steven O’Rourke, the manager, and David Gilmour when I cautiously produced a few books and some photos of the paintings. They were both polite and totally unconvinced. We agreed to talk about the subject at a later date.

In other words, forget the whole idea.

In the early summer of that year I went on holiday in Italy. I had this French girlfriend and I wanted to take her to Rome - the city where I had studied film technique at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematographia. We traveled further South by coach to Naples and then on to Pompeii. We paid our entrance fee to the ancient city and trudged around under the hot sun in the afternoon: The Forum, The Villa dei Misteri, The Temple of Jupiter...

In the early evening I discovered that I had lost my passport somewhere in the ruins, possibly in the amphitheater where we had sat and ate a sandwich. I rushed back to the iron gate - one of the entrances to Pompeii at that time - and tried to explain to the guards what had happened. Surprisingly they let me in and I returned alone, retracing my steps along the empty streets of Pompeii, back to the amphitheater of stone walls and seats.

It was strange. A huge deserted amphitheater filled with echoing insect sounds, flying bats and the disappearing light which meant that I could hardly see the opposite side of this huge structure built more than two thousand years ago.

I knew by instinct that this was the place for the film. It had to be here. It somehow all came together that evening in the ancient city. Film the empty amphitheater, resurrect the spirit of Pompeii with sound and color, imagine that ghosts of the past could somehow return.

I never found my passport.

Later on I read Gradiva by W. Jensen (and Freud's analysis of his story), in which a German archaeologist walks round Pompeii under the midday sun and catches a fleeting glance (or thinks that he catches a fleeting glance) of a young woman dressed as though she had lived two thousand years ago. Is this some kind of hallucination? Has he gone mad or does she really exist? The atmosphere of the book, spooky and moving, was exactly the kind of feeling that I wanted to establish for the film. Gradiva, the impression that she might really be there, just round the corner so to speak.

Croydon, somehow, didn't have the same appeal.

There was another reason.

By the end of the sixties, several concert films or reportages on musicians had already been made: Bob Dylan’s gritty black and white tour in England "Don't Look Back," magnificently filmed by Pennebaker, The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter," the Richard Lester films with the Beatles and above all "Woodstock" released in 1969.

Most of these musical films relied heavily on the relationship between the band and their public. There had to be a vast audience, the band had to be seen as being hugely successful. Rock films had already become a cliché...

What was the point of doing the same kind of concert film with the Floyd? Would it not be better to find a different idea instead of doing yet another documentary with fans and an enthusiastic public? Filming music should mean more than simply recording a concert or following musicians on the road as they travel from one city to the next.

Q: How did you get the Floyd’s equipment to Pompeii?

Adrian Maben: In those days the Pink Floyd had a lot of equipment, in fact a vast amount of equipment. It all had to be loaded up onto Avis trucks and driven down from London to Pompeii. It probably took about three days to get there.

Q: Any sites in the city of Pompeii that you were restricted from filming? Were there any bureaucratic problems?

Adrian Maben: The Soprintendenza of Naples - the official board that controls the site of Pompeii - was certainly suspicious of letting a rock group play in the amphitheater. After searching around I was lucky to meet a professor of the University of Naples - professor Carputti - who had good connections with the Soprintendenza and who was also a Pink Floyd fan. After an exchange of letters and the payment of the entrance fee (fairly steep even in those days) the problem was solved and we were given permission to film within the walls of the amphitheater - and elsewhere - for a period of six days.

Q: What was the reaction of the locals?

Adrian Maben: Only a few children from Pompeii (about ten) found their way into the amphitheater while we were working there. They sat quietly in a corner behind the cameras and occasionally darted out to ask for an autograph from the members of the band, from the manager Steven O’Rourke, or from the sound engineers...

Thirty years later I returned to Pompeii for the Director’s Cut to request permission to do a low flying helicopter sequence above the streets of the ancient city. I found myself in the Tourist Authority Information Center. The director, a well dressed man in his late thirties, immediately recognized me and said, "How strange to see you here again. I was one of the children who watched the film being made in 1971! What can I do to help?"

Thanks to that chance meeting the helicopter shot suddenly became possible.

Q: How were the tracks selected for the film ?

Adrian Maben: Echoes Part I and Part II because the album Meddle was about to be released. The other tracks were mostly chosen by the band. I politely and cautiously requested Saucerful of Secrets because I thought that it would look great in the amphitheater with Roger’s spectacular beating of the gong and David’s controlled improvisation on the Stratocaster.

Q: Any anecdotes about the shoot?

Adrian Maben: After having more or less agreed to do the film in Pompeii the Floyd were insistent on one technical point: NO PLAYBACK. The sound had to be recorded live, as though we were making a record, on 16 track tape. As it turned out the quality of the recording was exceptional - probably because of the natural acoustics of the stone built amphitheater.

One day, a stereo CD should be made with all the rehearsals, the outtakes and the noise of the children playing. There’s a lot of unused material on those tapes.

It took us three days to get the electricity to work in the amphitheater. I was going crazy trying to get the problem fixed while the group was hanging around doing nothing because there was nothing to do. On the third day of despair Peter Watts suggested we fly in an Englishman from London. "An electrical wizard," he said with enormous conviction. "Someone who could fix the problem in the twinkling of an eye."

We were just about to ring him when suddenly, miraculously, the current was switched on. A gigantic cable stretched from the amphitheater to a modern Church in the town of Pompeii...

There was also this idea of filming the band in a restaurant. The Hotel where we were staying would have been the ideal place to film such a sequence. We all wanted to do it. There would have been Italian waiters and pasta and local wine and lots of chit chat. In the end the idea was abandoned - there was no time and no money - but it returned like a boomerang to the Abbey Road Studio canteen a few years later.

Tea and apple pie (without the crust) were on the menu.

Thirty years later, during the making of the Director’s Cut, I returned to Pompeii and went round to revisit the old Hotel. All the shutters of the thirty odd rooms were drawn. It had obviously been closed down for years, it had become abandoned property - a sort of second Pompeii.

I thought of using it for the Director’s Cut. But would it be possible to get in touch with the owners, to revisit the dusty bedrooms and the large restaurant and kitchens where we never managed to film? Would they agree? And even if I used this new sequence would anybody who saw the film understand the passage of time?

I also distinctly remember listening to the first recording of Echoes in my hotel room. The band had brought me a sample vinyl record and I listened to it with the help of a portable plastic gramophone borrowed from the concierge. Overnight I had to finish the technical analysis (camera angles, position of the tracking shots etc) with a pen, a ruler, a stop-watch borrowed from the script girl, Marie-Noelle Zurstrassen, and a child’s exercise book.

I've still got the exercise book somewhere...

After the sixth day of the shoot the Floyd left immediately and the producer wasn’t able to pay the Hotel bill. No more cash! I was asked to remain in the Hotel - a prisoner of Pompeii - and to wait for the money to arrive.

The crew had departed. The negative film had been taken to Rome and would then (hopefully) be flown to Paris to be developed and printed. As I sat alone in the Hotel and drank too much wine I mused on what to do next. Above all, there was the nagging question about whether the band would accept to play later in Paris to fill in the holes that I had left in the Pompeii shoot because of the tight schedule.



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 business.

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 questions:

    "Are you happy with the filming?"
    "What do you mean, happy?"
    "Well do you think it's interesting?"
    After a long pause, "What do you mean, interesting?"

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.


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 like.

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 the Moon.

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 videos.

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 Taj Mahal?"

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 generations...

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.

 
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