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- Posted on Sep 11th 2011 1:30PM by Sarah Kurchak
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette
The documentary, which explores the making of 'Achtung Baby' in the wake of the album's 20th anniversary, is occasionally too nice. It's pretty and glossy, but there's very little bite to it. Taken at first glance, it's simply too gentle to be anything more than pleasant viewing for the casual fan. But when you scratch beneath the surface, Guggenheim's somewhat amiable relationship with his subjects does foster some very interesting revelations.
Without the comfort and trust that Guggenheim seems to have developed during the course of filming, many of the film's best moments could have easily not happened. It's unlikely that a less skilled and mannered director could have convinced The Edge and Bono to sit down and listen to early DAT recordings of the song that would eventually become 'Mysterious Ways' and discuss its evolution, not to mention the genesis of 'One,' in such an unguarded manner. These glimpses behind the curtain of U2's creative process haven't really been seen before, and are more than enough to justify the slight kid gloves treatment that the band get in other areas of the film.
So, too, is the surprisingly intimate portrait of Bono that emerges as 'From The Sky Down' progresses. The Edge's personal life is the one that's most openly discussed in the film -- Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. remain, as always, mostly ignored -- but it's Bono who appears to have risked the most in his subtly revelatory interviews.
The film isn't completely free of the kind of pretension, attention-seeking and humble bragging that have turned Bono into a bit of a caricature over the course of U2's latter years. Anyone who's seen 'Shadow Play: The Making Of Anton Corbijn, 'the documentary about the photographer and longtime U2 collaborator, will find some of the singer's behaviour rather familiar here. He's still prone to discussing U2, and all of the art surrounding them, with too much pomposity, and can never really fight his need to be the most clever person being interviewed.
But there's a lot lurking under the surface of Bono's rather immense ego, and the relatively safe environment that Guggenheim has created comes as close to revealing that inner life as U2 fans have seen in a very long time.
If Guggenheim had displayed any less patience with Bono, if he had forced anything, it's unlikely that the director and frontman would ever have made it to the point where they can discuss things like the creation of 'The Fly' character, and how Bono's rock star persona was consciously cultivated to protect the fragile and sensitive man behind the sunglasses.
Bono admitted as much when he discussed Guggenheim's style at the press conference. "I felt like I was being mugged, and what really annoyed me was that I didn't know I was being mugged because of the way he carries himself. It was a sleight-of-hand, and I'm used to having a bit of arm wrestling."
The singer was so alarmed by what he saw in rough cuts of the film that he complained to the director, but Guggenheim stood firm on this issue, and refused to change anything just to please his subject.
So maybe the real journalistic lesson of 'From The Sky Down' isn't just that a friendly environment can encourage some really powerful material, but also that you still have to maintain enough distance from your subjects at day's end to keep those moments from landing on the editing room floor.