Rattle and Hum Review

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A documentary that follows U2’s tour of America, getting in touch with country’s musical roots, following the monster success of their album The Joshua Tree.


U2, bless them, were never going to be the best of subjects for the juice and splatter of the rockumentary. We’re after infighting, scandal, the whiff of illict substances and the eternal blather of the gigantic ego, where this tight knit quartet of God fearing Dublin boys are more intent on waxing lyrical about authentic Americana, and raging against the injustices of the political state of their homeland. Phil Joanau’s film neither tells us much that even the most casual of fans wouldn’t already know, while unwittingly painting them as rather sensible. It comes across in doc-terms, unfortunately, as hagiography. Best then to approach what is an eloquent, beautifully shot movie (mixing colour with black and white stock) not as rock exposé but as a travelogue of a successful band’s journey into America, punctuated by some excellent live footage.

There is also much pleasure to be had from watching the various members of U2 wrestle with the very concept of their own movie (they have since lightly regretted it as indulgence). Bono, the band’s inevitable spokesman, is pointed and political and wry, happy to send up the other band members. Principally, the butt is stoic drummer Larry Mullen, who seems thoroughly pissed off with the whole carnival, although there’s a gem of a moment, when the singer forces his indignant guitarist to just play chords when BB King turns up for a show: “Um... yeah... well, uh, the Edge can do that”. The Edge, the band’s musical brains, is the one who does most of the musing on the relationship between America’s rock history and their own sound — although his conclusions feel a bit convenient given they have turned up on Elvis’ lawn. Adam smiles pleasantly, and seems a bit above it all. Larry sullenly, and a tad sarcastically, mumbles: “It’s a musical journey.”

The gigs are where the film and U2 come alive. Renowned as one of the best live bands around, Joanou captures both the vitality — Bono’s matchless engagement with an audience — and their versatility as they adapt to the huge size of these arenas, filling the voids with the tumbling landscape of their music. A gig played shortly after the tragic bombing in Enniskillen fires Bono into a speech of acid recrimination, a man enflamed against representing anything but peace: “Fuck the revolution!” he cries, unable to help himself. It’s a moment pure and unrionc that confirms the band, apart from anything, are for real, the kind of electrifying passion that brought them to this station in the first place.

Would have benefitted greatly from the Some Kind of Monster treatment.