Tuesday, 11 October 2011

From the Sky Down Review

To be honest I've found it very hard to write this review, there is so much in it and it's hard to know what to write about and what to leave out.  So I suppose the best way to start is to say I really enjoyed the documentary.  I wasn't sure what to expect, knowing that U2 can be control freaks I thought it might be more of a promo for the Achtung Baby remasters released at the end of this month.  But, it was far from this, it was a, sometimes painfully, honest picture of U2 at a very vulnerable point in their personal and creative lives together. It doesn't focus on the making of Achtung Baby, but moreso on the difficult, personal transition from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby.

The format was a mixture of old and new footage of the band interspersed with excellent animation.  Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Flood and Paul McGuinness also said their bit, but most of it was left to the band members to talk on and off camera.

There was more pre-Joshua Tree history and footage from previous documentaries than I would have liked, but, as not everyone watching would be an avid fan,  it was necessary to have some history of the band's career to set the context for what happened after The Joshua Tree Tour.

The honesty displayed was both touching and revealing.  The fact that they felt they were flying by the seat of their pants during The Joshua Tree tour was surprising.  They were not ready for the Big Time and felt they were not up to the mark and were full of self doubt.  Bono talked about how difficult it was to cope with certain sections of the gigs and they showed him having a rant about something that had gone wrong in a show.  He generally comes across as uber-confident, but this documentary shows he has his struggles and self doubts like anyone else.  So at a time when those outside of the band thought the tour was triumph, to the band members themselves it felt anything but.

The self doubt continued on into Rattle and Hum, though done for the right reasons, it turned out to be a huge mistake for the band.  Ironically, if they had been as honest as in this documentary in the Rattle and Hum film there is a good chance it would have been received better.  They were truly shocked by the negative reaction to it.  The documentary showed a little of the famous 1989 New Years Eve gig and the "Dream it all up again" speech from Bono.  

There was not much communication after the tour and Bono and Edge took themselves off and Larry and Adam felt a sense of abandonment.  They re-grouped in Hansa Studios in Berlin at the time the Wall came down.  Bono's more human, funny side does come across in this documentary and his impersonation of the British Airways pilot landing the last plane in a divided Germany was hilarious.  I can see why Hansa is a special place to record in, it is a beautiful space to be creative in.

It was a time of great change for Europe and that was echoed in the band.  As Alan Yentob said in his introduction, the city was seeking to renew and reinvent itself just as U2 were. Hansa had inspired numerous artists, but initially it wasn't happening for U2.  The Hansa sessions from twenty years ago were interspersed with their recent visits to record there for the Achtung Baby remasters.  There were also clips from footage recorded for the remasters in Winnipeg this year.  Plus there was even a little from "Dogtown" in Dalkey where they continued to work after the Berlin sessions. Sometimes that was a little confusing, but at the same time it was interesting to intersperse the four different recording environments.

There was a fabulous version of Love Is Blindness sung by Edge with acoustic guitar.  Sometimes you forget what a lovely voice he has.  Again, there was such honesty here as they talked of how this song was influenced by the break up of Edge's first marriage.  He said he was running away from his personal problems and was trying to find refuge in the music.  This created a huge resonance within U2 which until then had felt very stable and whole.  I think it was Bono who said that it felt like all of U2's community and music was cracking and falling apart.

The most captivating moment in the documentary is when One (working title Young Blood, I think it should have been New Blood) is born.  It starts in a section within Mysterious Ways (working title Sick Puppy).  And it is fascinating to see it form and develop in the footage from the original sessions.  Bono experimenting with the words and melody while the others tried to build the music around that.  You can feel that excitement of something special happening within the band, it is riveting stuff to say the least.  One is truly a song about the rebirth of U2.

It seems the band regains it's belief in itself after that and can move forward into a new U2 age.  Bono reinvents himself,  if he's going to be The Fly he  needs "some protection ... some armour"

Lou Reed's glasses
Jim Morrison's pants
Elvis's jacket - and a bit of his hair.

As Adam so succinctly puts it the band move "Into a brighter light."

Towards the end of the documentary the 1990's trips in the famous East German Trabants are interspersed with recent film of the band in the same cars in Berlin.  It is strangely touching to watch.  In new footage the band drive about in a Trabbie and then stop and get out of the car.  Adam, in the back, laughs as he initially can't get the seat in front of him to move forward so he can get out of the car.  Bono, holds out his hand to help him out of the car and they share a moment of laughter together.  It's a sweet moment, and I feel it's symbolic of why U2 survived the difficulties of the post Rattle and Hum trauma.  They fought to survive both because of their musical creativity and their friendship for each other, both were too special to lose.  And that is something that is special and still holds them close to this day.

This documentary gives us the truest insight into U2 I've seen, they should have done this a long time ago.  For fans like me it gives a unique insight and for people who are not fans, hopefully it will show them the human side of U2, how seriously they take their music and what they have achieved.

I don't feel my review has done the documentary justice, watch it and enjoy, you don't often get the chance to see this side of U2.


  1. Chris and I saw the film yesterday evening, and I agree wholeheartedly with your review!