One comment off the top, I hate the title. Sure, it’s a cutesy, throwaway ACHTUNG-era lyric, but Bono’s work has always lacked real poetry. Nah, let’s call this thing what its – THE MAKING OF U2’s ACHTUNG BABY AND STUFF THAT HAPPENED DURING THAT TIME PERIOD.
No, that might be worse.
At any rate, FTSD is a remarkably successful documentary about not one one of the worlds most successful bands, but about the creative process itself. The doc traces the transition the band felt forced to make following the tremendous success of their JOSHUA TREE American-style Stadium rock tour (a period documented by RATTLE AND HUM). In compelling and insightful interviews, the band members come clean regarding the challenges they faced as a unit trying to steer their ship in a different direction in order to be something new. The film does an excellent job in providing context for this time period, detailing the travails of success and the pressures of the follow up work.
What makes the documentary even more extraordinary, however, is when it transcends this mere historical documentation and looks at the very process of crafting a song. In a brilliant stroke, we hear DAT demo tapes with time code clicking away, hearing and seeing explicitly how in one moment there’s a dearth of ideas, then suddenly, out of the mess of improvisation and chunking guitar chords we get a hint of a tune, the very changes that would become “One”, the core single that spelled the new direction for the band.
The film works in much the same way at THE PROMISE, providing far more than a retelling of the historical events. These films each, in their own way, give a sense about the nature of creativity and the small kernels that lead to bigger and more dramatic uncoverings. While ACHTUNG proved to be a smash even bigger than JOSHUA TREE, there’s a strong sense of vulnerability exposed during this earlier time that makes the eventual triumph all the more engaging.
I’m not a fan of the direction U2 chose to take, I remain a bigger proponent of the “other” direction they felt they had to move away from. Still, this film gave me new appreciation not only for the output of that record but for the members of the band themselves. This is a doc about U2, but even for non-fans they’ll find loads to love about it. The band members are funny, charming and open throughout, far more at ease than in any previous documentary I’ve seen of the band.
While I felt Guggenheim’s IT MIGHT GET LOUD had moments of greatness that weren’t quite sustained throughout, FROM THE SKY DOWN is a far superior work, quite exceptional in its ability to d0cument the creative process itself, a feat as fleeting, delicate, almost metaphysical as process itself.