Drawing on extensive interviews with the four surviving members of Pink Floyd, as well as those close to him, Syd Barrett's story is retold in this rushed re-release.
Not much of an attempt has been made to bring this 2001 documentary up-to-date in the goldrush following Barrett's death. Even the biography details in the extras section list Barrett as "living content and reasonably healthy in Cambridge." Still, this is a thorough and compelling look at the early career of the psychedelic innovator, his gradual decline into breakdown, and the erratic, difficult solo career which followed.
Narrator Kirsty Wark follows Barrett's troubled life from his childhood in Cambridge to early gigs with the emerging Pink Floyd. There is rare early footage of multimedia experiments with Mark Leonard of Hornsey College's Light and Sound Workshop, as well as the legendary UFO Club.
The picture that comes across is one of a troubled genius with prodigious talent. David Gilmour - who still clearly carries an enormous amount of guilt over the unavoidable part he played in ousting Barrett from the band - points to the effortlessness of Syd's songwriting as well as the simplicity and Englishness of his lyrics, a tribute also paid by Graham Coxon who has, after all, built his entire career on Barrett's ideas.
Unfortunately, there was little that anyone could have done to prevent Barrett's mental decline. As Roger Waters points out, the band "tried to get him into therapy but we could never get him through the door".
It is genuinely moving to see Gilmour, the childhood friend who would stand by him to produce his first solo album, talk about the difficulty of performing with Barrett at gigs where he had been brought in ostensibly as 'second guitarist' but where it was clear to everyone that the plan was for him to take over the role of which Barrett was no longer capable. For a long time, Nick Mason admits, they tried to ignore the problem, until "we ignored it by not picking Syd up one day".
The story follows the continuing decline of Barrett's mental health: his retreat to his family home in Cambridge, where friend and photographer Mick Rock found him living in "womblike" conditions in 1971 and bandmate Jack Monck talks of the difficulty of "witnessing the breakdown of someone in performance."
Duggie Fields talks of him lying in bed because by doing so, he could imagine a future filled with endless possibilities, whereas the moment he got up, those possibilities became limited. Bob Klose is convinced that if a young Syd had been able to see what the future held and had been asked to swap the few interstellar years for the reclusive existence that followed them, he would have chosen to follow the same path; Mick Rock describes his existence in Cambridge as not unhappy and "fairly accepting" of everything that had happened.
In fact, it is perhaps the case that his former bandmates missed him more than he missed them, from the poignancy of barely recognising him when he wandered into the recording sessions of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, to the influence he had on the character played by Bob Geldof in The Wall, and the recording of Wish You Were Here. "It upsets him to have contact with people from that part of his life, so I don't," explains Waters sadly, before adding, "It upsets me as well."
Barrett himself seems to have drawn a line under his life with Pink Floyd that enabled him to find some kind of peace in the years that followed it and the documentary reveals the highs and lows but, ultimately, a sense of no regrets. Perhaps there was no reason to record new material following his death. What point would there have been to adding a footnote to a story which, in Barrett's mind, was already long over?