The answer is quite simple - unrealistic amounts of fame and a fan-based false mythology. From the moment Syd Barrett and the boys rewrote the rules of British psychedelia in the late '60s, the band became a litmus test for a fascinating, almost always pharmaceutical-based appreciation. Through creative droughts and personal demons, the loss of their enigmatic frontman and the commercial epiphany of Dark Side of the Moon, they were a novelty looking to break big. Unfortunately, when they did manage to go whole hog mainstream, the realities of such a product placement became self-evident. The group began to split, the schism settling in between the musicians (aka guitarist David Gilmour, keyboardist Rick Wright, and drummer Nick Mason) and the growing ego of their resident megalomaniac in training (bassists/chief songwriter Roger Waters). While the result was some of Pink Floyd's most famous material (The Wall), it also provided fuel for a final disintegration that lasted until a unrealized "reunion" some two decades later.
In the new documentary, Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? The Strange Case of Waters and Gilmour, the entire post-Dark Side/Wish You Were Here aspect of the band is discussed. Avoiding almost everything to do with the beginnings of the group, the involvement (and eventually insanity) of founder Syd Barrett, and the universal acclaim that accompanied their weird Wizard of Oz soundtrack (?), we pick up with Animals, an album that many consider to be the nexus between Pink.1, Pink.2, and the eventual end of the all things Floyd. Through archival interviews with the musicians, as well as new Q&A material culled from scholars and writers, the last legs of the creative collective's life are analyzed, from Waters eventual overtaking of the band's songwriting (because, in essence, no one else was contributing) to the ways in which The Wall became both a godsend and a gravedigger. The main theme here is that a growing alienation between the former friends meshed with massive international adoration turned the dudes into divas, no more so than with psychologically and philosophically complex Waters. When the rest of the group didn't want to play along, he simply took his songbook and went home, leaving them to carry on for themselves.
The most enlightening thing about Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? doesn't come from the eventual split. Nor does it derive from the Live 8 reunion that saw the four elder statesman of sound regrouping for a one-off trip down musical memory lane. No, the biggest revelation here is that, while fans have frothed over the lack of a proper Floyd fix since 1983's The Final Cut, the band themselves couldn't be bothered. As time passes, as interview footage moves from '87 to '95 to 2004, we rarely hear anyone calling for a comeback. Waters appears bitter, decades of misinformation staining what he believes is a stellar image. Gilmour tries to put on a stoic, brave face. He's hurt, but not permanently harmed. Wright's outsized personal problems (which are never fully explained) are referenced repeatedly, and Mason adds a few digs where necessary. Seems the guys have gotten past the problems of their superstardom and are happy to rest on their remaining legacy (and the elephantine residual checks from their past catalog). While lip service is paid to the phase which saw Waters sue to stop use of the name, and the rest of the group continuing on through two massively successful records, it's The Wall that gets the most attention - and rightfully so.
The story of how that double LP albatross came about is the fodder for a dozen different Behind the Music dissections, and fortunately, Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? avoids much of that dialogue. We learn of Waters hatred of war, his growing isolation from the audience, and his desire to work through said issues via his songs. Since the rest of the group couldn't be bothered to contribute (a concept that gets little explanation beyond a repeated word or two), the bassist takes over, completing a catalog of demos that would become the double album, movie material, and even parts of Cut. Once producer Bob Ezrin arrives to give the monster some shape, the rest of the band wakes up to realize what they've wrought. Suddenly, a pseudo-Waters solo outing no longer seems so special, and a growing dissension spreads, egged on by a Herculean live show, personal peeves, and that most dreaded of aesthetic divides - creative differences. While one part of the band wanted to continue his sonic therapy sessions, the rest just wanted to play rock and roll.
Thus the documentary spends its time extolling the lack of virtue in such petty predicaments. Waters leaves, the rest carry on, money is made, and myth is established. Eventually, Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? settles into a rhythm which argues that the two main driving forces in the group were best when they came together and collaborated, when one's way with words (Waters) matched the others way with sound (Gilmour). Theorists explain the limited melodic means of many Floyd classics, while gossip gives way to a wistful, if weary, nostalgia. Soon, the Live 8 reunion no longer seems so shocking. Instead, it was the closing chapter in one of pop culture's most surreal soap operas. As a band, Pink Floyd managed to overcome several fatal facets to their career longevity: the loss of Barrett; the struggles post-Syd; the Dark Side phenomenon; the endless touring; the advent of punk; the weirdness that was The Wall. Yet when it comes right down to it, this fascinating documentary argues that people, not place within the artform, will always drive a band's behavior. For the four school friends, suddenly middle aged and exceedingly successful, it was all too much. Fame and the fans are what "happened" to this '60s/'70s stalwart. The rest just comes with the territory.
Oddly enough, he have yet another full frame 4:3 offering - it is 2011, right? The 1.33:1 image, culled from video interviews, filmed footage, archival stock, and other sources, is good, but hardly consistent. Some of the band Q&A is awash in soft focus, and other bits are poorly framed (do we really need to see Waters face that close up?). Given the disparate nature of the material, the overall transfer is quite good. But given today's high tech HD home theater set ups, such a black box dynamic is pointless.
Offered in Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, the aural aspect of Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? is decent, but not definitive. On the plus side, the documentary does gain access to much of the band's post-Dark Side catalog and promotional material, meaning we get snippets of actual songs and videos, not sorry imitations of same. As for the talking heads, they come across crisply and cleanly. Sure, there is no immersive aspect to the presentation, and the live footage comes across as flat and somewhat lifeless, but for the most part, the sonic situation here is acceptable.
Don't be fooled by the DVD cover. There are NO extended interviews on the disc. They are nowhere to be found. Instead, we do get a look at the Wall live show, a list of contributor bios, and that's it. Not the greatest selection of added content, especially when other bonus features are promised and then apparently pulled at the last minute.
As part of an ongoing documentary dissection of Pink Floyd (just turn on VH-1 Classic at any given moment and yet another Dark Side/band overview is being offered), Whatever Happened to... is interesting, if only because of its agenda. It wants to argue for the viability of a group that, once they split, no longer seemed to care for each other's company. Even worse, they really didn't miss making music together, considering the difficulties in doing so before. Easily earning a Recommended rating, this is yet another piece on the puzzling wall of sound that was the band's break-up. Apparently, the dichotomy between Waters and Gilmour was too vast to last forever. According to this intriguing history lesson, it probably never could.
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