Skip to content

Bring Down The Walls

Phil Collins


The prison industrial complex in the US through the lens of house music and nightlife; the dance floor as a space of personal and collective liberation, and new ways in which we could come together as a society.

To understand the link that makes the very angry statement of Bring Down The Walls so magnificent and joyful throughout, we need to go back to the mid-1980s. While the American prison system had been evolving, since Nixon, into an aberrant machine producing social and racial discrimination, the embers of the egalitarian ideal dreamt of by disco were being rekindled in Manhattan, Chicago and New Jersey, in a sort of art bearing the welcoming name of “house music”. Bring Down the Walls was the title of an emblematic piece that dreams of using the beat of the drum machine to demolish the invisible walls of a society whose main victims found a home in house music (mostly black, mostly homosexual). Some thirty years later, Phil Collins took this title for the name of a large-scale collaborative project (including a film), determined to bring down very real walls: more precisely, the walls of the penitentiary complex, whose destructive work had not declined. Over several days, “Bring Down The Walls” gave voice to those advocating this dismantlement, while its nights were given over to dancing, under the same roof, to the sound of classic house tracks. By choosing to allocate equal film time to the discussions and jacking, Collins does justice to the very political beauty of dancing, and we would be mistaken to see it as nothing more than a recreational interlude: what is shown, with a rare elegance, is the purest and most communicative expression of freedom. Somewhere between Frederic Wiseman and Larry Levan, it is objectivity according to Phil Collins: five minutes for speaking, five minutes for partying.

Jérôme Momcilovic

PRINT SOURCE: Shady Lane Production,

Phil Collins

Phil Collins is a filmmaker and visual artist based in Berlin and Wuppertal. He is Professor of Video and Performance at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Previous films include Ceremony (2018), Delete Beach (2016), Tomorrow Is Always Too Long (2014), The Meaning of Style (2011), Marxism Today (prologue) (2010), Soy mi madre (2008), Zašto ne govorim srpski (na srpskom) (2008), Baghdad Screentests (2002), and How to Make a Refugee (1999).

In the same section