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"Live Aid — that's why I went to Africa and that's how I've ended up doing what I do. Outside of the band and my family that's the most important thing I'm involved in." — Bono

Review: Films of Innocence



Many of us go to U2 concerts for more than the songs -- we go for the experience. One way the band takes us beyond the music is through using lights, videos, and graphic art to increase the impact of the music. This appeals to me and often changes my perspective of a song or an entire album because I am a visual learner. I understand and engage the world around me best by observing it. Visual learners don't want to sit and listen to a lecture; they want to be immersed in a multisensory experience. This is what U2 does so well.

Films Of Innocence supports the experience of U2's latest album, Songs Of Innocence, by placing all 11 songs from the album in a package of conceptual videos, each created by a different artist. The result is a visual representation of each song through color, light, stop animation, live action and special effects. While I thought some of the videos work better than others, they all contribute to having an enhanced experience with the music and helped me interpret the songs by engaging more than just the ears. Films invites us to open our eyes and see the music.

Good art reveals more of the details of the world around us, often pointing out its contradictions and conflicts. This video anthology goes for that by pairing art in an urban context, sometimes gritty and disturbing, with idyllic symbols of the way things ought to be according to each artists' vision. Much of the filming was done in Dublin and parts of Ireland as a way of honoring the subject material of U2's album.

Light and color are strong themes throughout Films. Nowhere does this show up more effectively than in Maser's "Cedarwood Road" (above) and James Todd's "The Troubles" (below). Both films mix abstract graphics into urban scenes and themes. Maser combines live footage with special effects to create a wonderful journey of light through both cityscapes and rural settings. During instrumental breaks in the song, the visuals harken back to the 1960's psychedelic art craze, with an almost hypnotic collage that really needs to be viewed on a hi-def TV in a dark room. Appropriately, Dublin itself becomes the canvas for this experimental study in light.


In a similar way, Todd uses the medium of color to present what "The Troubles" inspired him to think of. From the first few frames, we see what it might look like if "somebody stepped inside your soul." The bold graphics give us a view through a kaleidoscope at a protestor blending into police officer, a woman into cat and humanity itself into nature. The contrast of colors is stark, reminding the viewer of both beauty and conflict as people constantly interact with and change one another. The message of "The Troubles" is not lost: We shape each other in ways we are unaware of.

Another pair of videos adds a storyline to increase our experience of the music. Chloe Early's "Iris (Hold Me Close)" opens with a teenage boy at his own birthday party. Bored with his balloons, he looks longingly out his window, past the nearby skyscrapers. He is soon outside, winding his way through a maze of blighted buildings on what feels like a pilgrimage to find the ocean. Standing in the sand at water's edge, he stares and wonders -- possibly reflecting on his journey, or pondering what lies ahead. As in many of the other videos in Films, this story also features the painting of an urban mural.

In "California (There Is No End to Love)," D*Face also tells a journey story but with a comic book style to his film. With the feel of a "Grand Theft Auto" video game (below), a character is driving with abandon, but we're not sure if he is headed toward or running away from something. Eventually, his journey turns into an apocalyptic struggle ending at the iconic Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles. The bold graphics and comic book effects convey a familiar sense of urgency in this tale. And when the road ends, we hear the lyrics of U2: "There is no end to love." No spoiler alert here; you'll have to watch this one to see how the protagonist fares.


Several of the songs from Films focus on the artist and the process of creating art. "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" is one of the most powerful, if not straightforward, videos in the collection. Oliver Jeffers uses stop animation and mural art in a tribute to Joey Ramone. Jeffers, focusing on fire, light and electricity, creates visual symbols of "the most beautiful sound" and helps us to consider the "stolen voices" of the past. Through splashes of color, I was as engaged in the creative process as in the final product, a massive portrait of Ramone on a wall in Belfast, highlighting the lyric, "I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me" (first appearing in "Rejoice" and then again in "Lucifer's Hands").

Another stand-out cut from Films is DALeast's "This Is Where You Can Find Me Now," (below) in which DALeast plays the roles of a homeless wanderer and a graffiti artist. As a vagrant, he watches his artistic self roam through the heart of New York City, stopping in abandoned corners to paint haunting animals on derelict buildings. This brilliantly conceived video puts the urban soul of a city into the natural world, where the miracle of life shines, culminating in a surprise ending about the creativity of the artist and where hope can be found in the midst of the darkest city night.


"Song For Someone" also attempts to highlight the creative process, but unfortunately, I experienced it as one of the least stirring clips in the compilation, with the artist, Mode 2, focusing more on himself than the actual art. The outcome of his effort is a gorgeous city wall in Omagh filled with hopeful images of children and progress, smashing the old and ushering in the new, but, sadly, we're only given glimpses of the final project. The artist's work shouldn't be discounted, but it would be much more meaningful if we could see more of his beautiful imagery.

A couple of the features on Films are more ambiguous than others. Robin Rhode's "Every Breaking Wave" is fairly abstract, not providing an easily identifiable storyline. Loosely playing with the theme of waves, the video shows a boy running across the sand with a black flag, then interacting with clip art-style graphics on a white wall. It's a pleasant piece, but not all that compelling. "Raised By Wolves," by Vhils, works better in its attempt to substitute a succinct plot with a collage of themes. Most of the action is presented in ultra-slow motion, and features a pack of wolves running amidst people who look out of place in an abandoned industrial complex. Explosions accentuate the chaos, leaving images and words etched into concrete. "I don't believe anymore" seems as certain and permanent as the cement blocks that hold its chiseled message.

Balancing out the hope of light and the excitement of color are some darker pieces on Films as well. Ganzeer's "Volcano" is provocative, containing explicit language and sexually suggestive material. Nonetheless, it is a cathartic barrage of word art, undoubtedly intended to jolt the viewer by means of two continuously shifting art panels. ROA's "Sleep Like A Baby Tonight" uses ink sketches and greyscale treatments to present a bleak trajectory of natural history, culminating in dystopia and humanity's demise. The goal is a bit lofty, though the effect certainly matches the heavy nature of the original song. U2.com club members get to see an additional video, Conor Harrington's "The Crystal Ballroom," which  imagines love being absent amidst two men in formal Renaissance dress fighting each other while the  artist paints a ghost-like rendering of the scene on a wall.

Films Of Innocence is a welcomed attempt to represent the themes on U2's new album. While no video completely captures all of what each song can mean to a listener -- U2's work is too complex to allow for that -- each artist brings a greater life to the songs through cutting edge-visuals. Overall, I thought Films worked very well. The videos for "Cedarwood," "Troubles," "Where You Can Find Me" and "Miracle" showcased exceptional skill and creativity. This Films project does run the risk of offering videos which might not be progressive enough for the visual arts community, while also not taking a more literal approach to the lyrics for those fans who want unambiguous storylines and direct linkages to the band. I expect to hear criticism from both directions. For me though, it's a perfect blend of pop culture, music and visual art, which is something U2 has worked hard at its entire career.

As the new tour ramps up for 2015, I hope these videos will find their way onto the screen in support of U2's music. If you're a visual learner like me, I think you'll probably agree.

Films of Innocence is available now on iTunes and Amazon.

(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2014.