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Overall Rating
3.93

Awesome: 40%
Worth A Look: 13.33%
Average46.67%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 9 user ratings


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U2: Rattle and Hum
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by Collin Souter

"U2 steals from the thieves...and gets caught"
3 stars

For the past 15 years, Phil Joanou’s “U2: Rattle and Hum” has been a punchline for every joke involving the band’s failed endeavors. The movie did the band a disservice back in 1988 after they had conquered the world with their breakthrough commercial album, The Joshua Tree. The release of this concert film put U2 back on the “who’s OUT” list of pop culture entities. “They need to lighten up…they have no sense of humor…They always look so damn serious…Hey, how does U2 change a light bulb? Bono holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.” Some blame the band. Some blame Paramount Pictures. Until recently, I always blamed Phil and may have been wrong in doing so. As he says in the film’s opening interview: “I knew this would never work.”

But “U2: Rattle and Hum” does work on some levels. As a concert film, it looks and sounds spectacular. Since its release, Joanou has directed a string of box office flops—“Final Analysis,” “Heaven’s Prisoners,” “State of Grace”—but has always been lauded for his visual flair. When R&H takes to the stage, the cameras glide effortlessly and smoothly around the band. Joanou—who also edited the movie—obviously studied Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” by using minimal cuts and letting the band play rather than the editors (In other words, it’s not very MTV).

It also works as a sort of diary for U2’s exploration of American roots music. Not a deep, insightful diary, but one where the chapters have been carefully placed. Today, we went to sing with The New Voices of Freedom…Then we went to Sun Studios…Then we went to Graceland…. As a series of anecdotes on U2’s tour of American roots rock, it depicts the band having a good time. Nothing tragic happens. We never see the band getting into heated debates over “the sound,” or anything like that. Little things happen, then it’s on to the next live song. R&H makes no attempt at putting any kind of perspective on the importance of this tour. It merely exists as a journal entry for the sake of posterity.

I find it strange that U2 made the choice to have a documentary crew constantly hovering over them at this stage in their career. The band had still not yet learned how to work the press, how to open up around them or how to convey the idea of how U2 operates. The movie depicts a shy, sometimes inarticulate band. It depicts a band afraid to smile. It depicts a band whose music seems to come out of thin air. It depicts a band who want to express their fan-dom of American roots rock, but end up putting themselves (in most people’s eyes) on the same pedestal as Elvis, B.B. King and The Beatles. Most of all, it depicts a band who love to play live, but express little joy.

Quite simply, it was the wrong time to make a feature-length documentary. Along with the unflattering image of being a self-serious band, everything in R&H looks as though it went too swimmingly. B.B. King showed up on the tour and performed a song on stage with the band; at Sun Studios, U2 recorded five songs in five hours; in San Francisco, U2 played a spontaneous live show where Bono sprayed graffiti on a statue; in Harlem, U2 visited the New Voices of Freedom gospel choir and recorded a rendition of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (why the live version of this arrangement landed on the cutting room floor remains a mystery to me).

When viewed as individual music videos, each song looks and sounds spectacular, but the movie never gives a clear idea of why anyone would find these four guys interesting as people. U2’s interest in American roots rock has no background, save for drummer Larry Mullen Jr. expressing his love of Elvis movies and his discomfort about seeing The King’s grave. Bono only talks about what shouldn’t be in the movie (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”) and spends much of his stage time “preaching” about world issues. The Edge likes spontaneity on a tour and Adam thinks music and politics should be intertwined.

Now, imagine if U2 had waited 10 years and had a full-on camera crew to document the making of Pop, the PopMart tour and every disaster that accompanied it. It might not have been pretty, but it at least would have made for some intense drama. Can you imagine the meeting that took place on opening night in Vegas (arguably, the worst show U2 has ever performed)? Or, the looks on U2’s faces when they first saw the mirrorball lemon come to fruition and realized they could not turn back? Or, maybe even the days after the tour when they might have paused in order to ponder, “What the hell was that all about?”

So, R&H will never be remembered in the same breath as the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” It does not try to convey the feeling of being sleep-deprived while on the road like Radiohead’s kaleidoscopic “Meeting People Is Easy.” It does not come off an as indictment on the corporate music industry like Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” Yet, if one were to acquire bootleg copies of the R&H outtakes (10 hours worth, if you’re interested), one could easily come to the conclusion that Phil made the best film he possibly could with what he had. The movie exists as it does simply because U2 had “planned” too much for it ahead of time, the antithesis of spontaneity and the killjoy of documentary filmmaking.

Had Paramount Pictures not been involved with R&H and had not promoted it as the second coming of Christ, things probably would have turned out differently in terms of the backlash that would ensue upon its release. There exists a better documentary about the Joshua Tree tour titled “Outside It’s America,” which shows the band having a sense of humor, perhaps the most crucial element absent from R&H, despite the opening interviews. U2, of course, would later fix the situation with their next album and tour, Achtung Baby and Zoo TV, respectively. When put in context of their 25-year career, this documentary seems to focus on a different band altogether, a struggling band, not struggling for success, but for identity.

Watching R&H 15 years later can be a bit of a chore for anyone who gravitates more toward the band’s work in the ‘90s and today, but I certainly don’t blame Phil. The band should have kept the project personal and not sold it to Paramount Pictures. In turn, Paramount should have kept the movie in the arthouses and promoted it accordingly. On the other hand, the success of Achtung Baby and Zoo TV came out of the failure of R&H, so I guess we should be thankful that movie is as choppy and self-granulizing as it is. How does that song go from the Zooropa album? “Some days you hear a voice/ Taking you to another place/ Some days are better than others.”

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8300&reviewer=233
originally posted: 11/16/03 19:50:05
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User Comments

8/02/14 ysghmjxdw USA 4 stars
8/30/10 lolo341 this review hits the nail on the head 3 stars
4/13/08 Thomas Wright Greatest dvd made for a band 5 stars
12/18/07 Lemonette The drama is in the astonishing, powerful performances on stage. Who wants interviews? 5 stars
1/30/07 David Pollastrini Great band with great songs 5 stars
2/24/06 okierazorbacker Bono's unerring sense of theatrics elevates this film 4 stars
4/02/05 patrick murphy this movie is a work of art & shows energetic &intimate but unobtrusive camera work 5 stars
6/04/04 Craig The incredible performances make up for the stale interviews. 5 stars
11/27/03 nikki-collin's stupid girlfriend BEST...MOVIE...EVER!!! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Nov-1988 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  04-Jan-1989


Directed by
  Phil Joanou

Written by
  (Documentary /
  Concert)

Cast
  Bono
  The Edge
  Adam Clayton
  Larry Mullen Jr.
  B.B. King
  Phil Joanou



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