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I think it's hard to come to a U2 show and just eat hot dogs and drink a soda, and not be moved by it. -- Adam

'U2 Rattle and Hum': Lighten up!

The Boston Globe
"Am I bugging you?" asks U2 singer Bono during U2 Rattle and Hum, a videocassette release of the 1988 movie set to hit the shops today. "I don't mean to bug you."

Bono's terse comment in the film concludes an anti-apartheid rap in "Silver and Gold," but one can't help hearing it, especially now, in a wider context. U2 is bugging a few people these days. As you may have noticed, the U2 backlash has set in.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Since U2 has oft been compared to the Beatles -- and Bono declares they're stealing the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" back from Charles Manson at the beginning of Rattle and Hum -- why not one more comparison? Up until late 1967, the Beatles were invincible. Then, came their Magical Mystery Tour TV film in 1967, and the critics sharpened their talons and swooped down.

Throughout U2's existence, the Irish quartet has garnered near-unanimous raves -- praise for everything from their music to their morality. The Rattle and Hum album, however, took some hard knocks; the New York Times, for instance, charged U2 with "self-importance" and the Village Voice slammed the group's "monumental know-nothingism." The film, although reviewed positively in these pages, also took a fair amount of drubbing. Again, the accusations of self-importance and humorlessness reared their heads.

Certainly, both comments have merit. When you hear Bono rework Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" to include this line -- "All I've got is this red guitar, three chords and the truth" - it's difficult not to cringe. Even if he believes it -- and you have to figure he does -- must he say it? The Blues Brothers, at least, joked about being on "a mission from God."

After guitarist The Edge complains about music being "so boring, so conservative, so predictable," U2 is shown performing an "impromptu" open-air, free concert in San Francisco. Impromptu? Well, the cameras were rolling and footage recorded for "Rattle and Hum," by definition a decidedly non-impromptu event. Would the concert in San Francisco have happened if this concert film were not being shot? Only U2 knows for sure.

Rattle and Hum, shot mostly in black and white (another conceit that beckons charges of pretentiousness), shows the group as it travels through America and American roots music -- gospel in Harlem, blues with B.B. King, stopovers at the twin icons of Elvis Presley's Graceland and the Sun Studio. Serious sorts of journeys. In the latest Rolling Stone, in which U2 is voted band of the year by its readers, director Phil Joanau is quoted thus: "The movie was meant to be a fairly serious depiction of their music, as opposed to a light one...A romp with U2 wasn't something I could swallow so I went for an overly serious, pretentious look at U2. That's a fair criticism, but what the hell?"

What the hell? Well, "a romp with U2" wouldn't have worked, but some balance would have helped. The music here is, by and large, stirring and, yes, serious. Ditto for the camerawork and lighting. U2 addresses some heavy themes -- from the Irish/English clash to heroin addiction to the struggle for love. (There are nine songs not included on the Rattle and Hum album/cassette/CD; several on the recording don't appear in the film.) But, and I know this from personal experience, U2 offstage are not always wearing The Mantle of Responsibility. Showing that side would have helped paint a fuller picture. Me, I'd like to see U2 in a bar, scarfing down beers and waxing idiotic with their pals the Pogues.

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