Why Pink Floyd Played Pompeii Without an Audience
French movie director Adrian Maben came to the group with the idea of making an anti-concert film, in reaction to the popularity of features like Monterey Pop and Gimme Shelter. The twist he had in mind was to do something with no fans, putting the focus squarely on Pink Floyd.
“I felt, at the time, that we'd had enough of concert films,” Maben told a Russian Pink Floyd fan site. “So the main idea of the film was to do a sort of anti-Woodstock film, where there would be nobody present and the music and silence, and empty amphitheater, would mean as much, if not more, than a million crowd.”
Having visited the Amphitheatre of Pompeii on vacation, Maben thought it was the perfect spot to capture the essence of the group, which was between their Syd Barrett and The Dark Side of the Moon eras. Filming for Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii was held over a four-day period in the ancient Italian city, starting on Oct. 4, 1971.
The concert couldn't have come at more intriguing moment. They'd just recorded the transitional Meddle, which found Gilmour’s confidence rising. His contributions – showcased on the epic closer, “Echoes,” which became a concert highlight – were beginning to mesh perfectly with Roger Waters' songwriting.
Listen to Pink Floyd Perform 'Echoes' at Pompeii
The logistics to making the film happen weren’t as difficult as you'd expect. The hardest part might have been the limits of travel and technology at the time. To get all of its equipment to Pompeii, Pink Floyd had to rent moving trucks to get its gear to the site. This was before the Channel Tunnel, so the trek took a few days.
When Gilmour, Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason arrived by plane, Adrian Maben said a “major crisis” was already underway: There was no electricity at the site. Having been built sometime around 70 BC, the amphitheater wasn’t exactly fitted with electrical outlets, so the director basically had to run an extension cable from the venue to a church in the city center, an issue that took three days to solve.
From that moment on, things went smoothly. Maben told the Pink Floyd website Brian Damage in 2003 that the only staunch request the band had was there was to be “no playback”: It had to be an entirely live recording. The director credited the amphitheater's natural acoustics with the superb sound heard in the movie. He also managed to keep it audience-free, except for a handful of curious local kids who stayed out of the frame.
Still, for what would appear to be such an enormous undertaking, the initial theatrical release in September 1972 yielded just 60 minutes of footage, and that included the band recording the early stages of The Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road studios. Subsequent versions stretched the running time to 92 minutes with the addition of interviews and images from NASA’s Project Apollo.