06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: From the Sky Down
The new documentary from “An Inconvenient Truth” director Davis Guggenheim looks at the Irish rock band U2 at a turning point in their career. After the massive success of “The Joshua Tree” and the self importance of “Rattle and Hum” the band decided to regroup and refocus, leaving behind the "earnest po-faced men" of the 1980s. It was time to cut down the Joshua Tree, Bono says and embrace a new, fun direction. The result was “Achtung Baby,” an exploration of dance rock hat cemented their position as one of the world's most popular bands. The documentary, however, for all its talk leaving the joylessness of their middle period behind, is a rather joyless experience in itself.
It could be subtitled, “The Trouble with Authorized Biographies.”
Like the band the doc is rather serious. The opening minutes describe an anthropologist’s take on a band as a clan and continue with loads of VO about the creative process. Along the way we pick the interesting odd fact--the original title of “Mysterious Ways” was “Sick Puppy” for example, and in the studio Bono uses a gibberish language called Bonolese to create the melody before he has written the lyrics--but there is also much talk of Stockhausen theories and of trying to create the sound of new Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. No one can accuse these guys of thinking small.
And perhaps that's where the movie falls down. These men are among the biggest rocks stars, not just on the planet, but ever, but the film doesn't capture that. As the opening says, they're a clan, but they are part of one of the most exclusive clans in the world, and it might have more interesting to dig inside the dynamic that has kept the band together for the best part of thirty years.
Instead the movie spends a great deal of time detailing the band's new sound on “Achtung Baby.” Fine, except they focus on the song “One,” which, of all the tunes on the record, sounds like a throwback to their previous work.
There's an interesting story to be told about U2. “From the Sky Down” isn't it.