Sunday, October 30, 2011

From The Sky Down

Today I saw From the Sky Down, a documentary about U2.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously worked with The Edge on the spectacular It Might Get Loud, the film centers around the band's time at Hansa Studios in Berlin during the making of their album, Achtung Baby.

I can see why diehards are disappointed in this and the masses are impressed.

Folks like me, in the diehard category, will see a lot of footage they've seen in the past. Some is from The Unforgettable Fire documentary; more is from Classic Albums: The Joshua Tree. Granted, it's weaved well within the context of the exploration Guggenheim needs to setup the 'drama' that was the Berlin sessions, but for those of us who have followed the band for three decades, it's old news.

There are also no 'big reveals' here that tell us anything we didn't already know.

The hats vs. the haircuts; the dance rythms vs. their signature sound; the drum machine vs. Larry. Old news.

That said, the production is beautiful.

Having the band go back (literally) to their old haunt and re-visit the songs and history that were created there is the perfect landscape for good documentary storytelling. You can tell from the present-day interviews that the memories still bring up a dose of pain for the group (for those not in-the-know, the band came close to breaking up during that time), but also a source of pride in the sense that they got through it and emerged stronger.

It will always be a pleasure to hear how "One" (arguably the song that sounds the most like their former selves) cracked the code of despair and allowed them to move forward with writing the rest of the album. And it will always be fun to look back to the time when the band was reinventing themselves (whether or not you think Achtung Baby was their career masterpiece).

But for an honest, raw look at that period of strained, tense creativity, I prefer to re-read the hilarious book, U2 At the End of the World, by Bill Flannigan. It reveals so much more.


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