Friday, 9 September 2011
TIFF 2011 - From the Sky Down
By Alan Bacchus
For those expecting a traditional bio-doc of the history of U2, this is not the film for you. Instead, Davis Guggenheim (It Might Get Loud, An Inconvenient Truth) tries to crack the creative process of the band by looking back at the most pivotal moment of change in their career – the Achtung Baby album, which saw them launch into the superstrata of arena rock bands after the near collapse of the band. Unfortunately, despite this focus, the film is flat and uneven, often stretching out sequences to create a narrative where one isn't present.
The opening shot reminds us of his opening in An Inconvenient Truth and features the iconic figures of the band back-lit for maximum glorification in slo-motion preparing to go on stage for one of their shows. Where most music docs would go back to chart the progress of a band's career, Guggenheim takes us on a mostly non-linear journey, intercutting rehearsal sessions for the upcoming concert, which will have them playing a number of songs from the aforementioned Achtung Baby album.
We also see stock footage of the recording sessions from back in the day. The smattering of chronicle-type storytelling that creeps in is mostly inconsistent, falsely leading us in wrong directions. The brief introduction to the meeting of the bandmates in 1976 is fun and enlightens us on the pre-celebrity personalities of Bono and the gang as musicians-in-training. But then the timeline fast forwards to The Joshua Tree followed by a lengthy sequence about the Rattle and Hum movie.
Guggenheim makes it clear that 1988 represented the lowest point of the band, as the reaction from audiences to Rattle and Hum was that the film was one of egotistical self-important indulgence. But an inexplicable amount of time is spent on the effects of filming that movie, compared to a lack of coverage of their rise and early successes, including the War and The Unforgettable Fire albums.
This would be okay if Guggenheim actually broke into the creative process. While we do see and hear some raw experimentation during the creation of some of their classic tunes, there is still a shell of protection around the band that Guggenheim never cracks. It's a shame because I find documentaries about the creation of art immensely fascinating. Unfortunately, From the Sky Down never goes as deep as the Bruce Springsteen doc The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town or the Metallica doc Some Kind of Monster. This is for U2 fans only.