We attended a documentary on Saturday night. It’s called From the Sky Down, held at the Toronto International Film Festival (trailer here). It tells the story of when U2 hit a creative dead end, and had to destroy its own identity in order to create itself anew.
I remember discovering U2 in the Joshua Tree era. I can still remember walking in a ravine while a seminary with the cassette tape playing through my Walkman. I then remember losing track of U2 while they seemed to go through a strange period that I didn’t understand. I rediscovered them later on in the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era, only to discover that I’d missed some of their best material such as Achtung Baby, released twenty years ago.
What happened in that strange era? That’s the subject of this film. U2 retreated to Berlin and (forgive the cliché) reinvent itself. Producer Brian Eno says, “The biggest enemy any artist has to face is their own history.” Bono adds, “You have to reject one expression of the band before you can get to the next one.” This means letting go of the old expression without knowing it’s going to work.
One reviewer puts it like this:
But what to do instead? From the Sky Down, without being at all overblown about it, presents the recording of Achtung Baby as a moment when the band was trying, in essence, to get from one side of a canyon to another, only they weren’t at all sure that there was a bridge they could walk across, because only the album they hadn’t made yet could be that bridge. Either they would create an inspired album…or they would implode. The movie is startlingly intimate — and honest — about the fears, the personal and musical tensions, the artistic chaos, the grinding work and discovery that went into the recording of Achtung Baby. It is, quite simply, one of the most transcendent close-up looks at the process of creating rock & roll I’ve ever seen.
I love movies like this. If you’re a writer, artist, or musician, it will help motivate you to take the necessary risks to create new great work. It applies to life as well: moving ahead does involve risk sometimes. As one book
says, we continually face the choice of slow death or deep change.
I enjoyed this movie. It’s worth checking out if you get a chance to watch it.