U2: From The Sky Down

From The Sky Down
Rating: ★★★☆☆

U2 is clearly again at a major crossroads in its career and has entered a self-evaluation process. To compound the sense of revisionism, the group has released a film on DVD entitled From The Sky Down, which received its theatrical debut at the Toronto Film Festival. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the film marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the group’s Achtung Baby album, a recording that rivals their watershed Joshua Tree album as the group’s best. While on the surface the film is about Achtung Baby, it thinly hides what the band is really up to, which is to demystify its collective persona and debunk any notion that its members are perfect, ordained rock gods who can do no wrong.

What makes this film more than a vanity self-promotion that uses the conventions of a objective biographical narrative is the group’s utter honesty in revealing its faults, warts and all, while projecting a feeling of pride in its work and its roots, as well as the love and respect the members have for each other. Much can be said about the band’s flag-waving, occasionally overblown self-importance, but no other post-60s band has more consistently released great albums and put on a better live show, all while keeping the original four members of the group intact.

The film is beautifully photographed, uses archival footage and animation and, rare in a film about a rock group, incorporates occasionally incidental music by another musical artist Michael Brook. In addition to the band’s members, the cast includes those that collaborated on Achtung Baby with the group and have worked with it consistently through the years: manager Paul McGuinness, producers Brian Eno, Daniel Laonios and Flood, and photographer Anton Corbijn.

Surprisingly, even though the film touches on the group’s whole career in a roundabout way, there are no mentions of the band’s social activism. The film focuses on the making of Achtung Baby at the famed Hansa Studios in Berlin, the period just before the triumph of The Joshua Tree, the group’s disappointment in its film Rattle & Hum and the aftermath of Achtung Baby, which was their ZooTV tour. It would be interesting to first watch the DVD on the making of The Joshua Tree, then Rattle & Hum, then this documentary and then the concert DVD for ZooTV.

Along with the nearly 90-minute documentary are three full musical clips from the film, snippets of the band’s appearance at the Toronto Film Festival and a photo gallery.