Tuesday, November 08, 2011

From the Sky Down

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, From the Sky Down is a documentary about the making of U2’s 1991 landmark album Achtung Baby. Through new interviews with the band and fellow associates plus archival footage and rare photos, Guggenheim explores this chapter of the band where they took a major risk at reinventing themselves in the new decade. The result is a stylish yet entertaining documentary from David Guggenheim on one of rock’s great albums.

The story of U2 is one that anyone who is a fan knows about as it’s just four young guys from Dublin, Ireland who start out as this post-punk band with anthem-driven songs that later becomes one of the biggest bands of the worlds for more than 30 years. What Davis Guggenheim chooses to do is focus on one part of the band’s history which is the making of Achtung Baby and all of the drama that came in making that album and the reward it gave the band afterwards. Meanwhile, Guggenheim and cinematographer Erich Roland goes to Winnipeg and Berlin to interview the band and fellow associates to discuss the album as the band is rehearsing for a show at the 2011 Glastonbury festival in Britain.

Guggenheim briefly touches on the band’s history from their early years in the late 70s when they were just developing to the chaotic period of superstardom following the massive success of 1987’s The Joshua Tree and the backlash following the 1988 Rattle & Hum film/album. Featuring rare footage that wasn’t present from the Rattle & Hum film, it showed a band seemingly lost in the world of stadium rock and superstardom as their attempt to discover American roots music made them into the kind of band they had rebelled against. Through voice-over narration and the band talking during their rehearsals, they reveal that the reason they needed to make Achtung Baby wasn’t just to find themselves again but to find some reason to continue as a band.

This would lead to what was certainly a very difficult period for a band that has been known to rebel against something as all of a sudden, the only target they had left were each other. With singer Bono and guitarist the Edge’s interest towards the Madchester sound from Manchester and the industrial music of bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, it gave them enough reason to want to reinvent themselves leaving bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. unsure of what to do. While the idea of going to East Berlin, just before the official German reunification was to happen in October of 1990, seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead, they arrived at a very grim time while the legendary Hansa studios, where David Bowie made his landmark trilogy of albums with Brian Eno in the late 70s, didn’t help matters at all.

Guggenheim’s direction definitely shows a band divided with performances of a few songs in the rehearsal scenes to emphasize what they were going through at that time. One of the big highlights of the making of the album are through the DAT demos that revealed how a song is made in the span of 30-minutes to an hour which is how One eventually came into fruition during this jam session. Through that session and discovering One is the reason why the band is still around which leads to the making of the Zoo TV tour and concluding with the band’s performance in Glastonbury.

While a lot of the discussions about the album has a band being calm about what was going on. Guggenheim definitely gives the film some elements of style through some very entertaining animation sequences that shows a band united and then divided. Notably a hilarious scene of the Edge trying to tune his guitar very loudly that annoyed Larry only for the Edge to keep tuning. The animation also delves into the dramatic moments such as a band that was becoming divided by drawing four walls to emphasize what they were feeling at the time.

Another notable sequence that is very entertaining is about what the band was going through during that Rattle & Hum period that revolved around what happened when bands break up as it features archival footage of individuals from great bands talking about problems in a band. What makes this little montage so funny is the fact that it is presented with an exaggerated form of truth. Roger Waters walking out of Pink Floyd. Slash and Duff were bought out of Guns N’ Roses. David Byrne sneaking out of Talking Heads. It was to emphasize everything that U2 didn’t want to go through as Brian Eno states that bands do end up becoming a collective group of egos when things become complicated.

With some wonderful editing by Jay Cassidy and Gerard Brisson to gather all of the footage and some amazing sound editing by Skip Lievsay to put all of the voice-over narration to have each band member or associate discuss the events of what is happening. The film also includes some low-key guitar-driven music by Michael Brook to play some of the dramatic elements of the film. Guggenheim manages to craft a very solid and engaging documentary that is entertaining. The only major flaw of the documentary is that with the exception of a few songs, many album cuts aren’t profiled which is the only major drawback because there’s more to Achtung Baby than just One, Mysterious Ways, and The Fly.

From the Sky Down is an excellent documentary from Davis Guggenheim on U2 and the making of Achtung Baby. While fans of U2 will certainly enjoy all of the archival footage and interviews, they will be a bit disappointed that some of their favorite songs from that album aren’t presented in the film. Casual audiences will find this documentary enjoyable as it does manage to balance the serious moments with some animation montages and humorous scenes that play out in the film. In the end, From the Sky Down is a marvelous film from Davis Guggenheim.

Davis Guggenheim Films: (Gossip) - (An Inconvenient Truth) - (Gracie) - (It Might Get Loud) - (Waiting for “Superman”)

U2 Reviews: Studio Albums: (Boy) - (October) - (War) - (The Unforgettable Fire) - (The Joshua Tree) - (Rattle & Hum OST) - (Achtung Baby) - (Zooropa) - (Pop) - (All That You Can Leave Behind) - (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) - No Line on the Horizon

Compilations: (The Best of 1980-1990) - (The Best of 1990-2000) - (U218 Singles)

Live/Remix Albums: (Under the Blood Red Sky) - (Melon) - (Original Soundtracks 1) - (Hasta La Vista! Live from Mexico City) - (The Million Dollar Hotel OST) - (AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered)

Films: (Rattle & Hum)

© thevoid99 2011

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