In 1991 U2 released what was one of the quintessential records of my adolescence. My mom was my sort of guiding light when it came to music. She has an artist’s heart, so we have always had a good time sharing new music with each other. I remember being in the car with her one day, and she had just bought Achtung Baby on cassette. I’ll admit that I was never one of the original U2 fans. I got into the game late. I loved that “new” U2 before I learned to love the “old” U2 that put out The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, War, Boy, etc. It’s not to say that I was not aware of them… but it wasn’t until Achtung Baby that they really grabbed hold of me and said “Now listen up, you – we’ve got something to say to you”. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was one of the first records that I fell absolutely in love with from beginning to end. This record helped set me down the road of exploring music in new ways. And I think that’s because that is precisely what U2 was doing on the album… exploring a new incarnation of themselves that was incredibly raw and risky. That moved me.
20 years later, 2011 was a celebration of all things Achtung Baby. Deluxe Edition reissues, the cover record… but the bit I was most excited for was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, From the Sky Down. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a self-indulgent trip into how genius the record was and how great the band was for making it… I’ll speak candidly – I bit on the whole ‘Bono is a self-absorbed rockstar dictator’ line of thinking – after all it is a pretty prevalent narrative these days and true insight into the band comes sparsely. From the Sky Down took that whole line of conversation and turned it on its head. Rather than getting 86 minutes of self-praise and back patting, the audience is treated to an incredibly candid, and – dare I say – spiritual, look into the history of the band.
Make no mistake, From the Sky Down is certainly focused on the Achtung Baby recording sessions… but it is also so much more. The concept came from their celebration of Achtung Baby at last year’s Glastonbury festival. So to do it justice, they return to Hansa Studio in Berlin to rediscover what transpired there just as the Berlin wall was being torn down 20 years earlier. The first 40+ minutes of the film is focused upon how U2 had formed and then evolved and then been humbled following the release of Rattle & Hum, essentially as a band on the brink of falling apart. It becomes a story of perseverance, of brotherhood, of family, and of humanity. And if that weren’t enough, they treat you to the most magical part of making music – discovery. You hear the original DAT recordings where they found ‘One’. And then in one of my favorite scenes of the entire film, when Larry finds the drum part for ‘Zoo Station’ and a childlike exuberance washes over him as he gets the thumbs up from the Production Booth.
This is as honest of music documentary as I have ever seen. If you think that you know everything about U2, if you know you don’t, if you are a musician in a band, or if you just have a love for music… see this film. It’s 86 minutes that may well wish would last a lifetime. This one went straight to ‘Instant Classic’ for me. Bonus points for a lot of perspective from two legends in Producer Brian Eno and Photographer Anton Corbijn.
5 Stars – Davis Guggenheim strikes again (It Might Get Loud)
- Mick Grady