Review – Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii Director’s Cut DVD

Call me pretentious (“You’re Pretentious”) but I like Progressive Rock. I count Rush, The Moody Blues, Horslips, and Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd among my favorite bands). I grew up on the middle 3, and picked up the former and latter up as I grew older. I saw Rush live in concert last year when they came to Portland to play the Clark County Amphitheater, and have watched Pink Floyd’s concert DVD Pulse. However, I had not yet seen Floyd’s most famous concert video – their performance in Pompeii, with their “classic” lineup, at least to American eyes and ears – Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright – most American listeners, especially nowadays, would be not be familiar with any Floyd’s earlier material with Syd Barrett; they’d be familiar with Barrett’s influence on the group, but they would not have actually listened to the band’s two albums with Barrett.

So now, thanks to the wonders of NetFlix, I have finally gotten around to watching the Pink Floyd Pompeii Performance, and I’d say it’s good. The DVD though, is a more than a bit of a mixed bag.

The Director’s Cut DVD contains much of the material from the 1974 release of the film, the interview footage and the recording sessions (and re-created recording sessions) from Dark Side of the Moon, along with an re-created recording session for Echoes at Abbey Road Studios – as well as the interview footage from the mixing sessions and pick-up shoot in Paris (and, of course, the actual performance). The interview footage is interesting, though the “behind-the-scenes of the album” footage is the most fascinating as Pink Floyd’s sound has always been interesting, and seeing how the built it using the technology of the time is truly fascinating. The interview footage, despite the band’s attempts to comically undermine their interviewer, does get some semi-interesting insights into the band at the time the film was made, particularly considering that the film came out about 6 years before their spectacular self-destruction after the release of the album “The Final Cut”.

The additions in the Director’s Cut aren’t necessarily “minor”, nor are they unobtrusive (if you know the film was released in 1974 it’ll stick out like a sore thumb) – but they fit. Specifically, the director has added some additional footage of Pompeii (unobtrusive), as well as some CGI of Pompeii as it might have looked when the place was standing (obtrusive), along some CGI material and live footage from various space agencies of stellar phenomina and misc. space missions. On the minus side though, the picture has been stretched to take it from the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original release to a 16:9 for wide-screen TVs, which sticks out like a sore thumb for the original material as there is notable distortion. According to the director’s interview, this is in part because the original negatives from the film were lost entirely, which is certainly unfortunate, but I would have rather had a mix of the aspect ratios than the distortion. Also, the markers for the start of each piece are rather poor and not very well labeled on screen.

Fortunately, the original 1971 performance at Pompeii, which is about 60 minutes long, is provided intact as a bonus feature, with no breaking interview footage, at a distortion-free 4:3 aspect ratio. (Hey, that rhymes.) While the “original cut” is shorter, the performance is presented as an “unbroken” whole. (I use quotes there because, again, some of the footage of several of the songs used in this version were performed Paris rather than in Pompeii.) Also, the start of each piece is clearly marked with a title card. My one gripe with the concert layout is, primarily, that Echoes is split into two pieces and used to bookend the piece – mainly because all my experiences with the song have had it as one contiguous whole, and it’s jarring to hear it broken in half. If it was, say, “Shine on You crazy Diamond”, I wouldn’t have minded as much, as it was split on the original album – but in this case it’s jarring.

All in all though, it’s a pretty solid DVD, and generally interesting. If you like rock, if you like Pink Floyd, if you like performance DVDs, give this a shot.