@U2 Home Page - U2 News, Lyrics, Tour Dates & more       https://www.atu2.com
[Skip to Content]

"I don't believe in wishful thinking. You know, 'Imagine,' that John Lennon song, it's my least favorite of his songs. And he's the man for me, but it's like I don't believe that imagining is enough." — Bono

Review & Recap: From The Sky Down at TIFF


"If you know what goes in the sausage, you won't want to eat the sausage."

That's what Bono said to the audience at the Elgin Theatre on Thursday night while introducing From The Sky Down as the Toronto International Film Festival's opening film. Standing on the stage with The Edge, director Davis Guggenheim, a few key crew members, and TIFF directors Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey, Bono spoke briefly about why U2 had been so hesitant to let an audience see their creative process before now.

And let there be no doubt: From The Sky Down gives a great peek at what goes in the sausage.

The first-ever documentary chosen to open TIFF (as well as a rare non-Canadian film to do so), From The Sky Down was completed in just six months by Davis Guggenheim, the veteran documentary filmmaker responsible for An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting For Superman and the Edge-starring It Might Get Loud. Bono joked that Guggenheim got the call only because they couldn't get Wim Wenders. But joking aside, Guggenheim created a rock 'n' roll documentary that managed to not just be fun and rousing entertainment, but also captured the essence of its subject matter: the creation and 20th anniversary of 1991's Achtung Baby.

The film can essentially be divided into two halves. The first half is devoted mostly to a brief history of the band from inception through the end of the '80s, detailing the circumstances that led to U2 needing a creative revival following the critical lambasting handed to Rattle & Hum. The second half deals with the making of Achtung Baby in Berlin, and shows the band in studio working out the songs that eventually became "One," "Mysterious Ways," "The Fly" and others. Interspersed throughout are new interviews with the band members, manager Paul McGuinness, Achtung producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and engineer Flood, as well as footage of the band prepping the songs for their headlining performance at the Glastonbury Festival this past summer.

The opening of the film shows the band embracing backstage as they get ready for their epic Glastonbury performance. "Forming a band is like forming a clan," the film tells us. Achtung Baby was, for Bono, "the pivot point. It's the reason we're still here."

Flashing back to the band's run through the '80s, the film offers several insightful glimpses of what led to Achtung Baby, encapsulating the need to change everything, from sound to imagery and attitude. The band's visual identity was commented on via a mid-'80s shoot with Anton Corbijn where he slowly directs the band's movements. "No wonder we always look so grim," Bono mumbled to The Edge. "It's because we're so bored." Boredom wouldn't be a problem with the photos for Achtung Baby; the black-and-white somberness of The Joshua Tree era gave way to an explosion of color that documented U2's travels in Berlin. "We were fed up with gloomy black-and-white," recalled The Edge. (The band liked to have fun with Corbijn though. Adam Clayton revealed that they loved getting him to say "Joshua Tree" because his Dutch accent couldn't pronounce the "j.")

More so, though, the first half of the film is  about U2 realizing they needed to change several fundamental aspects of who they were. "The '80s suffered from my own intensity," Bono said in the film, revealing why the Achtung Baby sessions needed to reintroduce a sense of fun and excitement to the band's work. Several responses to the Rattle & Hum film are shown, including Roger Ebert tearing it apart on At The Movies and a Rolling Stone review saying the band clearly "still hadn't found what they were looking for." Bono spoke about seeing The Clash as a kid, and how "big rock" was the enemy. "Have we become the enemy?"

In trying to reinvent the band in Berlin, Eno pointed out that "the biggest enemy any artist has to face is their own history." Bono agreed, adding, "You have to reject one expression of the band before you can get to the next one."

Watching that next expression take shape is one of the most exciting aspects of the film. In intimate footage from the studio, we see the development of "Mysterious Ways," and it's revealed that "One" actually spun out of a rejected bridge from that song. But the band quickly knew what they had with that melody, and spent a long time working it into its finished form. "The Fly," which inspired the film's title, also gets a good bit of attention, particularly Bono's creation of the song's eponymous alter ego. "Lou Reed glasses, Elvis jacket, Jim Morrison pants -- it was like a rock star assembly kit," he said.

Meanwhile, the political upheaval of Germany was all around them, and the Berlin wall finally came down. "Berlin was a baptism of fire for us," Adam  revealed, but it resulted in an album that prepared U2 for real sustained longevity that very few rock bands experience. At one point, Guggenheim humorously highlights dozens of other major rock bands and what led to their disintegration: Flame-outs, walk-outs, throw-outs, pass-outs, sex-outs and even come-outs (Rob Halford). But U2 survived and endured.

After some great footage of the band reworking the Achtung songs for Glastonbury this past summer (including an absolutely stunning solo Edge performance of "Love Is Blindness"), the band completes the backstage embrace that opened the film, and takes the stage with a defiantly triumphant version of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" that soars over the end credits.

TIFF's documentary programmer Thom Powers later revealed what his wife said to him as the credits rolled: "The sausage tastes even better now that we know what's in it." Indeed.

(Daniel Joyaux is a freelance writer who will be attending screenings at TIFF for the remainder of the festival. You can follow all of his coverage via Twitter @thirdmanmovies and his blog: thirdmanmovies.blogspot.com.)

© @U2/Joyaux, 2011.