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Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' Documentary: Album's Origins, Syd Barrett's Influence and Roger Waters' Passion
- Posted on Jul 6th 2012 4:00PM by Chris Epting
Last month saw the release of a new DVD documentary, "The Story of Wish You Were Here," which sheds light of the making of this landmark release through new interviews with Roger Waters, Gilmour and Nick Mason and archive interviews with the late Wright. It's a fascinating document and fitting tribute to Pink Floyd's outstanding achievement in the creation of this masterpiece.
Spinner recently had the pleasure of speaking with the director of the program, renowned British filmmaker John Edginton, about his film, the album and Syd Barrett's influence.
Syd Barrett, who'd long been gone from the band when Wish You Were Here was released, still plays a big part in your documentary, doesn't he? After all, some key parts of the music were inspired by him.
He certainly does. Syd was so integral to the band even though he was gone and so I tried to weave him in and out, not to be completely dominating, but just to have him in certain parts. I was so much aware of Roger's guidance on the subject of Syd. Roger was saying, "This record isn't all about Syd!" He's there obviously, very powerfully as a presence, but the whole theme of absence applies to the band as they were making it. I was very aware of that. The other thing was, I'd done another documentary on Syd, so I thought there was a danger that I could come off obsessed if I included too much of him here [laughs].
Pink Floyd is notoriously shy of the press, yet you pulled some marvelous moments from the band. How big a challenge was that?
I'm always curious how I get things from these guys. I made the previous film as I mentioned, but that was 10 years ago. That said, I guess they felt that they could trust that I had a level of knowledge about them so maybe they could settle into some familiarity with me. Roger, actually, I was very impressed by. He's hugely busy, caught up with The Wall tour -- since I filmed his parts he's been to Australia, South American and now he's crossing the States -- but I was impressed that he took the time to come to the studio in New York and when he came he was so into it. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, he brought his guitar with him and he performed this great, stripped-down version of "Wish You Were Here," which I loved. He sort of switched on -- he didn't want to go, he was so into talking about it -- and I thought it was just fantastic. Then he called me up a few days after seeing a rough cut and he had about four little things he wanted to say but overall was just really happy. And David was, you know, a different personality altogether. Slightly reserved, but he gave us the time and I did not expect him to start singing "Shine on You Crazy Diamond."
How does it feel when something that magical and unexpected happens while you're rolling?
I'm buzzing. I try not to be too much like a schoolchild, but yeah, it's quite amazing [laughs].
The background singers played a big part of the sound and mood on the album.
Carlena Williams and Vanetta Fields were great gospel singers. Vanetta had immigrated to Australia years ago so she took a huge amount of tracking down but we found her down under! I loved that Eagle Rock, the production company, was ready to go the extra mile for my interviews. We went all over the world -- it became a labor of love from them as well as for me.
What surprised you most in making this documentary?
I didn't have huge hopes when I started it because it's sort of a familiar story. But as we progressed, something very special started to emerge. Exploring as much as I did, a really complete story of the band began to emerge, even though we were focusing on one album. It wasn't that easy for them to journey back and think about that record. The English, as they say, don't like to face the things that are difficult -- they just like to grit their teeth and struggle through [laughs]. I think David especially would get to the point of, "Oh God, do I really have to talk about this?" But he did!
When the record first came out in 1975, were you a fan?
I was a big fan of early Floyd with Syd, and I saw them at clubs in London and saw them as being quite a jazzy band. I hadn't gotten on to them that much in the early '70s because I frankly got bored with prog rock. The scene to me was getting dull. We didn't know it but we were just waiting for punk to appear -- we needed that! So I missed this gem of a period until later, in the '90s. I finally sat down with it and in looking for something darker and stripped down in the '70s. I didn't realize it was in this album, but it is. The mood that "Shine On" creates up front is just so special. Roger describes it well: It's a mournful tone that it sets, then just builds this mood of regret. It's very emotive but very contained as well.
What surprised you most about the band members?
I think I was surprised that Roger is so engaged and so passionate about current political issues, capital punishment, Occupy Wall Street. He puts his money where his mouth is. There is a small housing project run by one woman that he helps support. He's an engaging guy and very politically active and very true to himself.
David is a little harder to judge. He's quite careful. He'd been going through a crisis with his son who'd been charged with something so we delayed filming due to a court date. So for him it was a difficult time but he came through very big for us.
Nick is just delightful. What a great guy he is -- really interesting, very funny, very self deprecating. On the extras we've got some amazing things on him.
And you even got to go back to Abbey Road Studios with the album engineer Brian Humphries to hear the original tracks.
An absolute and total privilege. Brian is in retirement, not very well, and had not been back for 30 years. He really gave us his time, and the Abbey Road library staff is amazing, completely enthusiastic. They came out with the old boxes, like archeology, digging deep and uncovering sounds and marks on boxes and his reactions are so genuine and in the moment. A favorite part of the documentary for me is watching and listening to Brian.
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