Toronto 2011: U2’s Bono shows ‘em how it’s done

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In its 36 years, the Toronto International Film Festival has rarely opened with a non-Canadian film and never opened with a documentary. On Thursday night that all changed, as North America’s most prestigious film gathering kicked off this year’s edition with Davis Guggenheim’s U2 documentary ‘From the Sky Down,’ trading patriotism for pizzazz.

Bono and The Edge both walked the red carpet and took the stage of the festival’s Roy Thomson Hall before the premiere of the film, which pulls the curtain back on the band’s artistic methods.

The lead singer offered a wry assessment from the stage about why he and the rest of the band had hesitated to cooperate on this kind of film before.

‘We are very protective of our privacy and particularly the creative process, not just because we’re precious, which we are, but just because it’s not that pretty,’ he said. '[It’s] that old adage that if you knew what went into the sausage you wouldn’t eat it. You got some sausages and mash coming up, ladies and gentlemen,’ he added, to laughter from the audience.


The film is a rather procedural look at how the band traveled to a studio in post-Communist Berlin to put together the 1991 album ‘Achtung Baby’ at a critical moment in the band’s history. Members argued over how much to experiment with new musical styles in the wake of the disappointment of their previous album, ‘Rattle & Hum,’ and how much to move away from the more straight-ahead ballads of ‘The Joshua Tree.’

In the end, the impulse toward more experimental music won out, and it resulted in a mega-selling record that yielded hits such as ‘One’ and ‘Mysterious Ways.’

Bono’s comments in the film were sometimes funny, but much of the movie is abstract, insider stuff about how he and others find inspiration. While some interview moments and new footage throw a genuine light on the creative process, Bono is also prone to offering homilies like: ‘The best way through writer’s block is to be truthful.’

The Edge told the Toronto crowd that he was aware of the pitfalls. ‘It’s a subject that in the wrong hands could be really kind of indulgent,’ he said before the screening. (Guggenheim, the issue-oriented American filmmaker behind ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘Waiting for Superman,’ told 24 Frames earlier this week that he believes the film is ‘for anyone who is interested in how songs get written.’)

At the screening, the audience was clearly enthused, but in a Canadian way; there was a refreshing lack of hysteria when the rock stars took the stage to introduce the movie. Even with all the firsts, some things don’t change.


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-- Steven Zeitchik in Toronto