Film Reviews

Screen Time: ‘Roger Waters Us + Them’

The Pink Floyd rocker and director Sean Evans reunite for another concert doc


Roger Waters Us + Them
(UK, 135 min.)
Dir. Sean Evans, Roger Waters

Are concerts merely backdrops for selfies in 2019? There’s a boatload of bright lights twinkling throughout the audience in Roger Waters Us + Them. Much like the egregious offense of whipping out a mobile a movie theatre and failing to reduce screen brightness, a smartphone at a concert should be an obnoxious intrusion. But everybody does it. The screen is the lens through which we now view the show.

Roger Waters has clearly observed his audiences’ dwindling attention spans and their growing interest in flashing screens. Roger Waters Us + Them, the concert doc of his latest tour, features a smorgasbord of screens. He incorporates the power of images into his show, offering a dizzying array of screens that descend from the top of the arena. The screens offer everything from clips of documentaries like Baraka, Samsara, and 5 Broken Cameras to cheesy B-roll and moderately exploitative PSA/perfume commercial style shots of refugees.

But whether the screens are there by Waters’ design, or merely popping up every time some (cringe) “influencer” wants to snap a selfie (#UsAndThem), they prove a distraction. One watches the 135-minute opus of Roger Waters Us + Them focussing more on the OCD light show than the fist-pimping political commentary of the fired-up rocker.

These images can be effective complements for the message of Waters’ provocative music. Waters’ songs, both his solo records and Pink Floyd hits, remain relevant. Songs like “Pigs,” “Welcome to the Machine,” and “Us + Them” speak to contemporary ills like the global migration crisis, climate change, and Trump-diddly-ump despite being written in the 1970s. Ask someone who isn’t a fan of Pink Floyd to separate the classics from the tracks of Waters’ 2017 solo album Is This the Life We Really Want? and they might not be able to tell the old music from the new with this film.

It’s a credit to Waters’ talent that his career has lasted so long even though contemporary audiences have brutal attention spans. (Surprisingly, many of the fans in Waters’ smartphone-wielding audience are Millennials.) Waters still puts on a heck of a show. There are old favourites here from Pink Floyd hits like “Dark Side of the Moon” to his anthemic “The Wall,” which has only gained with relevance in the age of Trump. The latter song makes the light show of Us + Them, the film more so than the concert, feel somewhat lacking. This isn’t the first concert doc by Waters and director Sean Evans. While it’s handsomely shot, amped up, and ready-made for the big screen, they’ve captured Waters’ work before and they’ve done it better. But even unnecessary encores can be fun when they don’t surpass the show that precedes them.

2014’s Roger Waters The Wall offered an electrifying musical experience with a rendition of “The Wall” that was staged for more engagingly and elaborately—using screens, no less—than it is in this outing. Here, Waters’ trucks out a child chorus wearing orange jumpers as if they just escaped from Guantanamo Bay. It’s effective enough, but seeing both of Waters’ and Evans’ films chronicling the rocker’s concerts, this one just feels like a patchwork of familiar images. Even Roger Waters The Wall took the aging rocker outside of the concert hall for some reflective interludes to make a film about the man as well as the music.

The film is simply a concert movie—nothing more and nothing less—so it doesn’t actively engage with the power of images in a world increasingly driven by distraction. However, if one looks at the film at a remove, Waters’ concert reveals one of the very problems plaguing society while inadvertently playing into it. We’re so inundated by messages that it’s ultimately hard to care. Even if an image can grab one’s attention for long enough, it’s pushed off the screen by something more sensational. Even if there’s no real purpose to this outing aside from putting a concert on the big screen, the music’s pretty great—although the film itself might have viewers checking their phones throughout the screening.

Roger Waters Us + Them opens in select Cineplex cinemas on Oct. 2.