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20 Years of Achtung Baby: Director Richie Smyth - Fly On The Wall (Part 3)

Third in a three-part series

@U2, November 09, 2011
By: Sherry Lawrence / @atu2comsherry

 

It's well documented that U2 began a public love affair with dance music and the clubbing scene during the recording of Achtung Baby, although it wasn't the first time they had dabbled with these: "Two Hearts Beat As One" received the dance remix treatment by Francois Kervorkian, for example. As Niall Stokes wrote in Into The Heart: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song, "U2's interest in dance had been stimulated by their own plans to open The Kitchen in the Clarence Hotel. Besides, there was an imperative always to be at the cutting edge of youth culture, to know what was going on, to absorb whatever lessons might need to be learned and to apply them smartly to the evolving band gestalt." It was with this in mind that U2 once again turned to Richie Smyth -- to create his third video from Achtung Baby, for the Perfecto Mix of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" in July 1992.

By this point, U2 had already completed the first two legs of the ZooTV tour and was gearing up for the Outside Broadcast shows. Anne-Louise Kelly, director at Principle Management's Dublin office, was certain that U2 needed to expand the reach of "Even Better Than The Real Thing." Smyth explains, "This was an interesting time for the band on another level. Dance was coming outta 'underground' and becoming mainstream. Anne-Louise Kelly saw what was coming with the whole dance movement and pushed the remix idea. The band got Paul [Oakenfold] to do the Perfecto Remix and Anne-Louise called me up and said they need a video and fast."

Smyth was given a Herculean task with this project as he had only four days to create the video. He said, "I was finishing up a Verve video and burnt out. But that's the gig. It's the longest I've gone without sleep and not on a bender. Thankfully I had an epic editor, Juniper Calder, and we locked ourselves in the edit suite, turned off the phones and dived into 100 hours of footage. There were no band presentations or re-edits. It went 'straight to air' and I went straight to bed."

The design of the remix video was quite different from the award-winning original version that Kevin Godley directed, but it achieved the same goal that Bono set out while writing the song. In U2 By U2, Bono describes the lyrics of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" as "not substantial as a lyric but it suggests a certain sexual tension and desire to have some fun playing in the shallows. Sliding down the surface of things ... It was nice to take some of the more fun bits of rock 'n' roll. We really needed that playful thing to balance what was at the heart of the album and make the bitter pill a little sweeter to swallow." Smyth was able to take that playfulness to a new level by showing the mischievous side of U2. Niall Stokes described it as "the band had rediscovered their sense of fun, tarting it up, a la Marc Bolan in a tribute to the kind of glam rock that was Top Of The Pops when they were hitting their own teens."

Smyth's use of footage from previous Achtung Baby videos, and archival footage of U2's time in Morocco during the lead-up to Achtung Baby's release, drives home that theme. From Larry and Edge sharing a dance to Bono "tarting it up" for Anton Corbijn during the many photo shoots to the band's foray into drag, as well as the many belly dancers keeping up with the dance beat, the video is a great souvenir from that moment in time for U2.

Since his trifecta of videos from Achtung Baby, Smyth's career has only gotten better. He collaborated with U2 for their "Last Night On Earth" and banjo-wielding "Vertigo (Temple Bar Mix)" videos.  More recently, he has established himself as an international award-winning director of commercials. He divides his time between Dublin and Los Angeles.

©@U2/Lawrence, 2011



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