During a brief lull in new concert DVDs to review, I finally got around to reviewing Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii (The Director’s Cut) DVD. I first picked this one up on VHS back in the mid-’80s and can still hazily remember staying up many a night, after a long night of partying, and letting the hypnotic strains of “Echoes” whisk me back in time to an ancient Roman land, until the sleep fairy eventually brings me back to reality. If you thought that listening to Dark Side Of The Moon while buzzed off your rocker was a real mind-fuck, just go ahead and give this baby a try.
A little about the history of Live At Pompeii. The video was shot in October of 1971 amongst the 2000 year old ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy. Additional footage was also filmed at a Paris studio over the next few months, and this was all around the same time that Pink Floyd would release their sixth studio album, Meddle. The original 1972 theatrical release of this film was only 62 minutes long and featured performance footage from the Pompeii amphitheater and the Paris studio. A second version was released in 1974 on VHS that featured additional footage of the band working on their legendary follow-up album, Dark Side Of The Moon, as well as some band interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. This version ran about 80 minutes, and was also later released on laserdisc.
Live At Pompeii (The Director’s Cut) is a 2003 DVD re-release from director Adrian Maben that includes additional interview footage, some new computer generated graphics, loads of NASA video, and more non-performance related video and images of Pompeii. This version has a running time of 92 minutes, and, thankfully, it also includes the original theatrical release as an extra feature. It is just a shame that it didn’t include the 80 minute, 1974 version, which, in my opinion, is still the best version.
The original version really presents a uniquely eerie mood, as if Stanley Kubrick had filmed it just before doing The Shining, and that element mostly gets lost with this director’s cut. Maben splices things up with too much interview and behind-the-scenes footage, which, although fascinating, ruins the mood and flow of the original performance footage. Take the opening sequence, for instance. The original begins masterfully with a completely dark screen, as heartbeat-like percussive sounds gradually increase in intensity until nearly two minutes in when images of the Pompeii ruins are finally shown. This is followed by an amazing wide angle shot of the entire amphitheater, from above, which shows the crew setting up all of the equipment.
Perhaps the finest few minutes of the film come next, when after everything is set up and Wright plays the first few keyboard notes of “Echoes Pt. I,” Maben ehhhhver so slowly begins to close in on the band, and it seems like an eternity until he reaches the close-up of Gilmour singing that first verse. The director’s cut replaces most of this brilliant opening sequence with the sounds of heavy breathing (such as from in a space suite maybe?), film of rocket launches, Pompeii scenery, studio performances, the solar system, and other nonsense. The most frustrating thing is that the new stuff is not entirely in addition to the original footage, but it replaces some of it. The sweeping majesty of the original is completely lost.
The song performances on this DVD are revelatory and capture one of the world’s greatest rock bands coming into their prime. Meddle was Pink Floyd’s first great album of the post-Syd Barrett era, and its two classic tracks, “One Of These Days,” and the 20-plus minute “Echoes,” split into two parts that bookend the video, are both brilliantly performed here. You also get the hilarious live studio performance of the acoustic blues number, “Mademoiselle Nobs,” renamed “Seamus” for the for the Meddle album, which features a howling dog accompanying Gilmour on harmonica and Waters on acoustic guitar. Now that’s some blues.
Older late ’60s tracks like “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” are equally brilliant, and they also show you just how much the band had evolved in only a few year’s time.
If you look at this DVD backwards from the way it is presented – the original version as the main feature, and the director’s cut as a special feature, then you will likely be more satisfied with it. The director’s cut is essential for all of the extra interview and behind-the-scenes footage, especially of the band working on Dark Side Of The Moon in the studio, but the way it is all spliced together ruins the overall mood of the original. The director’s cut also inexplicably crops the picture from its original 4:3 aspect ratio to a 16:9 widescreen picture that only negatively impacts most of the otherwise perfectly framed original shots.
The picture quality still looks remarkably good considering it’s age, and the new Dolby Digital 2.0 mix sounds outstanding. One other thing to note about the audio track is that it is about a half semitone sharp, which would probably go completely unnoticed unless you like to jam along with the DVD on guitar, which I normally like to do. I do not recall if the previous versions had the same issue. Other extra features include an interview with director Adrian Maben, a photo gallery, album graphics, Pompeii map/history, lyrics, posters, reviews, and more.
There are only about 20 concert DVDs that I consider absolutely essential, and Pink Floyd – Live At Pompeii is one of them. In the interview, Maben reveals how the producers tried to talk him into doing similar projects with other famous bands of the era, such as Deep Purple in front of the Taj Mahal, or The Moody Blues at the Grand Canyon, which I think is a great idea. I’ve got four words for you Mr. Maben – Porcupine Tree at Stonehenge!
1. Echoes Pt. I
2. Careful With That Axe Eugene
3. A Saucerful Of Secrets
4. Us and Them
5. One Of These Days
6. Mademoiselle Nobs
7. Brain Damage
8. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
9. Echoes Pt. II
Performance – 10/10
Production – 6/10