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Well, kiddies, we’ve just seen our first rave of 2008! Thank Parvati! Your ever-luvvin’ elephant-head has suffered awfully these first weeks of the new year, as you’ll find out from some of the other films coming up in review. Ah, January, post-holiday junkyard of the film industry, you’ve coughed up one gem in all this rough. 

Indulge us in a little history; as a baby pachyderm, my awareness of a certain combo from Dublin bordered on pure stalk; back in the days when MTV a) actually played music videos and b) used to caption their videos with a dash between the “U” and the “2”, e.g.: “U-2”, how cute. I had written in my date book the day that both Mr. Bono Vox (- he had a last name then, babies) and Mr. The Edge were married (- in the same year, I believe.) And for many moons they were on plastered on my turntable, then in my walkman, on constant rotation as one of my favourite bands. Somewhere along the way I lost them, surely through no fault of their own, it was all me. Can’t think of how, but somewhere after Achtung Baby, I became forgetful and neglected to buy any of their other CD’s (- I’d modernised) past that point. Still, they remained in my consciousness with an affixed fondness. One of my deepest regrets is never having seen them live in concert. 

Clearly, I’ve been forgiven for my unintentional inconstancy because the band has been kind enough to gift me with the nearest thing to a concert event they could’ve ever given a fan rabid, lapsed. or indifferent. U23D has burned the roof off whatever previously qualified as a great concert film. Long admired for their devotion to their fans, they present the world with a new standard of reaching out to those mutual devotees by giving us an experience both intimate and universal. Utilising the digital advances in 3D photography, the phrase ‘being right there on stage with the band’ never had such meaning, and in the bargain we are shown a group of musicians that is every bit as vital and hungry now as they were at their start some 30 years ago.  

The concert, filmed in Buenos Aires, begins in total darkness with a few dots like candlelight coming to the surface. Those thousand points of light are the various cameras, cell phones and peripheral luminescence of the crowd and from this docile scene, all at once we are onstage  as the band launches into Vertigo ( - beloved by Ipod owners everywhere) and that’s when your eyes get blown back into your head. From the shots at crowd level, all your proportions are thrown off; it looks like the audience in the cinema are all waving their hands in the air and jumping up and down and that you’re dozens of rows back in the stadium (- knew I shouldn't have trusted Craigslist for those tickets!) next, you’re hovering like a dust mote over Larry Mullen Jr.’s drum cymbals, then all of a sudden you’ve got Bono in your lap. Each member of the band so crystal clear you’d swear they were right in front of you. Multiple layers of 3D camerawork singling each element out so that the four members are like live figures in a pop-up book. Everything looks so jarringly real that you half expect someone in the movie audience to bum-rush the stage.  

Real doesn’t even begin to cover what looking at this is like, you’d have to drop a Sur- in front of it to get close. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not only are the band members’ virtual reality perfection remarkable, but incredibly, stripped of its wonderful 3D amazement, the way the film captures the passion of the fans of this band and the energy it imbues in this group of now middle-aged men is a glorious thing on its own. There is a wonderful moment when the 3D technology is used at it best in a scene shot from crowd level, everything has gone darker and quieter, the lighting is once again provided at the fans’ behest, and Bono is standing on a stage in the middle of the crowd with a single spotlight on him and through the depth of the 3D photography, it looks like he and the audience are floating somewhere in space. There’s no discernable floor and only endless sky. The stadium is the U2 mothership and there doesn’t seem to be anything in the world other than this moment between the singer and his fans.. Thanks to the wonderful 5.1 surround sound recording, you hear not one false note played, not one 30-year-old lyric forgotten, Bono’s voice ably hitting notes that were difficult back in 1982! It’s not just rote to them, fiercely playing numbers that have been trotted out thousands of times with no trace of ennui; you can see the same hunger in U2 as back when they were “the original garage band from garage land.” I actually got a little verklempt seeing how U2 had not flagged one step in these days when they could easily have retired to Ibiza and never been seen again, but another benefit of the up close and personal photography is how you can clearly see on their faces and in their amazing performance that they truly want to be there. When Bono says “We’ll never forget this” at the show’s close to this gathering of the devoted, it’s no front man parlance; he means it. The combination of art and science, technology and emotion, is mind boggling, and that’s what separates U23D from being just a nifty 3D experiment and elevates it to a pop masterpiece.  

The set list is smartly chosen; you have a selection from all stages of their long career for the fans’ delectation and songs familiar enough for even non-followers to enjoy. Besides the rip-roaring start of Vertigo, standout numbers were Beautiful Day, Love and Peace, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Miss Sarajevo and One. Bono’s dedication of Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own to his late father, Bob Hewson, a retired postal worker, was particularly touching; the concert screen visuals bringing forward artist Julian Opie’s LED sculpture of a faceless man in a button-down shirt and trousers in profile simply walking. Because you’re so pulled into the action both on stage and in the crowd, you can’t help but feel every bit of emotion between band and fans; you can see each face of those filmed in the Argentine audience as they stand on each other shoulders, singing to their souls, roaring back lyrics at the little Irish guy in the shades. Happily, directors Mark Pellington and Catherine Owens take a hard line at keeping this from being The Bono Show, cutting down on some of the patented lead singer ham ( - I say this with luv) I’ve seen in other filmed U2 performances and feature each member of the band at their best. It’s awfully easy for the other three to get lost behind their vocalist’s huge humanitarian shadow, but here the other guys get their due. Framed and forced forward, I once again rediscovered the clarion call of Dave (- that’s The Edge, to you) Evans’ powerful guitar work (- Small shout to the new hardest working man in show business, The Edge’s roadie! For not one song did Edge wield the same axe; switching instruments back and forth like a runway model changing in and out of schmattes at Fashion Week), while getting a flashback kick out of the fact that he still plays the piano on New Year’s Day. What was a particular joy for me was to see the shine given to the most underrated rhythm section in rock, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Photographed from various angles, the 3D effect made Clayton’s solid stock-still wide leg stance seem like the pose of a mighty bass god, the head of his bass jutting off the screen about to rap you on the head. And Larry Mullen Jr. ... *sigh*… this Temple has long adored the agelessly handsome founder of the band, but Shiva Knows we hardly ever get to see him in filmed performances stuck way in the back. Not only do we get to practically sit on his drum kit; but in a delicious moment, he’s brought front and center with one drum on a platform in the midst of the crowd for Love and Peace as Bono plays cat and mouse with him from another stage. Yaoi-rific! The unusual perspective of the drummer, standing almost silhouetted shot mostly from the back shows us that Mullen can take one tom and one cymbal and spark a song into bigger flame than most drummers could do with a double set. Riveting stuff, kids.  

This wouldn’t be a U2 show without some note of their (rightfully-) lauded humanitarianism and without leaning too heavily, it’s nicely handled by Owens and Pellington. In fact, it’s so deftly done, that I walked away less jaded and more interested by what comes across here as a true and deeply felt belief by all four members that the world can and should be a better place. The animated visuals for Yahweh are charming and childlike while making their point and the use of word art in their screen displays during the second half of the film works effectively in the 3D format without distracting from the fact that this is a rock show. Yes ma’am, a rock show like you’ve never seen, live or on Memorex.  

How amazing is it that a group that’s been around as long as U2 continues to blaze artistic trails while embracing the future of technology, giving their fans and the fans of cinema a wonderful and unforgettable experience? It’s absolutely thrilling and mesmerising. I predict singing and possibly the occasional pogo in the aisles during the film’s run. U23D captures the band and the excitement of their live shows in a way that no other medium could. 

Run to this, kids, it’s a marvel! 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

January 16th, 2008

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  National Geographic Entertainment/ 3Ality Digital)