Yesterday was Day 1 of TIFF, but it was more of a strange half day where we only watched two movies and only one that had its TIFF premiere, which was Wim Wender’s Pina. For whatever reason, TIFF’s opening night seemed to be off on a German kick, between that and the Opening Night Selection, Davis Guggenheim’s U2 portrait From the Sky Down, which focuses on their “Achtung Baby” album mostly recorded in Berlin, and then Werner Herzog was back at TIFF with his new documentary Into the Abyss.
The other movie we saw yesterday was the Brad Pitt baseball movie Moneyball. You can read our thoughts on that here as well as read reviews of Ryan Gosling’s two movies at TIFF, Nicolas Refn’s Drive and George Clooney’s The Ides of March (by clicking on their respective title.)
We ended our first day at TIFF with an unconventional choice just because there weren’t a lot of other more viable options, but we certainly were excited to see the return of German auteur Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) to screens, this time embracing 3D technology for a look at German choreographer Pino Bausch, whose abstract interpretational dance inspired two generations of German dancer. Bausch passed away before Wenders was able to start the film but at the behest of the dancers, he continued to make the movie. The results are not a documentary in the traditional sense as much as a performance piece interspersed with short testimonials and portraits of the dancers who worked with Bausch. You can tell there is an incredible amount of love for what she was able to bring out in all of them, which makes it a particularly moving piece of filmmaking.
Filmed in 3D and taking full advantage of the medium, Wenders is able to find the best angle to capture the performances, whether it’s long shots that show the entire stage or zooming in on one particular dancer. As one might expect, this isn’t the type of dancing we’ve gotten used to from watching MTV or Soul Train, but absolutely wild expressionistic choreography that’s a bit hard to describe. Watching Bausch’s work being performed in this fashion raises many questions, the most pertinent one being “What is dance?” and at times even “What is art?” as her choreography ranges from the mundane to absolutely fantastic repeated movements and acrobatic feats that would seem impossible to the untrained.
While many of Bausch’s more known works are performed in the theater, Wenders also takes the dancers out into real world locations around town so they’re performing in parks, on the streets, and the locales get more and more extreme as the movie proceeds so by the end, the dancers are performing in the mountains. These may be to show how the elements play into Bauch’s work as does the performance of “Full Moon,” an elaborate choreographed piece on a stage where a giant rock is the centerpiece with water pouring from the ceiling and being used as part of the act.
It’s quite an amazing film, though possibly an odd choice for Wenders’ country to pick as their selection for the Foreign Language Oscar being that the little bit of actual talking is in a variety of languages with very little actual German. If you’re not the type who can just let yourself be carried away by music and movement, you might also be incredibly bored by the very straight-ahead approach taken by Wenders to show Bausch’s legacy more through performances than words.
From the Sky Down (Showtime)
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
From the Sky Down may be the closest Davis Guggenheim comes to a follow-up to It Might Get Loud, branching out from his look at U2 through their guitarist The Edge to do a film that explores U2 during a pivotal phase of their career, transitioning from “The Joshua Tree” through their tour of Americana in “Rattle and Hum” and into the ’90s with “Achtung Baby.”
As the band prepare to play the Glastonbury Festival earlier this year, they decide to revisit their 1991 album “Achtung Baby” on its 20th Anniversary, returning to the original Hansa Studios in Berlin where it was recorded to rework the songs for the show. This is the entry into a fairly candid look at the period after the making of “The Joshua Tree” where things started changing for the band and they started to achieve the stature where they’re at right now.
Unlike “U2 3D” and “Rattle and Hum,” this isn’t strictly a performance film but more of a “making of” done in hindsight, blending old often never-before-seen footage and photos with interviews with all the key players including producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, as well as photographer Anton Corbijn who played such a large part in the band’s early image.
Going to Berlin to record what would end up being “Achtung Baby” was a fairly friction-filled time for the band as Bono and the Edge were trying to create something inspired by German industrial bands and the growing club scene, something that wasn’t easy to explain to the other half of the band. During this time was also when they tried to stop being so serious and earnest, writing songs about political issues, and turn into a band who realizes the importance of having fun.
For the most part, the movie gives the most screen time to Bono and The Edge, who as always, act as dual spokesmen for the band. At times, Bono comes off a bit pretentious, but other times, quite reflective, fully admitting they may have gone a bit off their original plan with “Rattle and Hum.”
It’s another well-made film by Guggenheim, although some of the decisions, like the style of animation used, seems a bit odd compared to the rest of it. One of his nicest touches is showcasing what a nice singing voice The Edge has as he performs a rendition of “Love is Blindness.”
Obvious, this isn’t something that’s going to be of much interest to anyone who isn’t already a U2 fan or at least interested in music, who will be the ones who most appreciate the way Guggenheim gets the band to open up about their past, as well as the archival footage and actual demos and studio recordings from that era. Hearing a bridge written for “Mysterious Ways” transform into “One” live as it happened is something that fans of the band will truly appreciate since it’s rare to see their process for writing songs in such a fashion.
It’s not the most enlightening film otherwise and you won’t leave it thinking any particularly deep thoughts, but it’s another way the fans are being allowed into the inner workings of a rock band that’s spent so much of its time in secrecy.