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U2 3D - Review and Bono interview

U2 3D

Review by Veronica Blake

IT SAYS says a lot about the world’s favourite rock band that they chose their hometown Dublin to premiere their new film U2 3D.

It’s hard to believe they’ve been together for a little over three decades yet remain as closeknit as they were when they started out as punk rockers in 1975, when they would drink in a little dockside pub called The Clarence, the only pub in Dublin which would serve Bono and his pal Gavin Friday, who’s kilts, Doc Martin’s and studded dog collars managed to get them barred from just about every other venue.

“The elderly barmaid Agnes was stern but she took pity on us and would serve us a pint so long as we sat in the snug out of sight of the other drinkers,” says Bono. He liked The Clarence so much that years later he bought it and refurbished it into one of Dublin’s most stylish hotels.

U2 have kept their feet on the ground and remained unaffected despite their phenomenal global fame and success. Loyalty, a sense of family, friendship and unity are themes central to their music and their lives.

They’re as down to earth today as they were 30 years ago, and as they stroll up the red carpet and wave to the hundreds of fans waiting, braving the chill outside the Cineworld on Parnell Street in Dublin they remain as unaffected and amiable as they were as punk rockers.

U2 is about passion, politics and love and it comes across in this film.

“There’s an overriding aspect which is their creative generosity, it’s a generosity I’ve personally experienced for as long as I’ve worked with them,” says their long-time friend and director of the film, Catherine Owens.

All tickets for the European premiere, shown as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, were quickly snapped up as word spread of the cheapest front-row seats ever seen for a U2 concert.

Bono has featured in many U2 music videos and starred in 1998 concert movie Rattle & Hum. But he told me he’s too busy being a singer, songwriter and political activist to become an actor too.

I ask if he’d ever quit the day job to contemplate being an actor?

“I know Mick Jagger played the outlaw Ned Kelly. But I’m in a band. I’m doing enough extra-curricular activity to keep me going,” he says.

I first met Bono 10 years ago when dining at Tosca (sadly no longer in existence), a wonderful Italian restaurant owned by his brother, Norman. Tosca was one of Bono’s favourite Dublin haunts. He was sitting with The Edge enjoying a bowl of pasta and a bottle of Montepulciano when he remarked how nice my purple velvet waistcoat was.

I told him it was from my brother’s shop in Merchant’s Arch Temple Bar. “What number?” he asked me and seemed astonished when I told him No 2.

“You’ll never believe this but I built the wall in that shop. I worked there from the age of 15 selling cowboy boots and cheesecloth kaftans to Dublin hippies saving up for my first guitar,” he said.

He laughed when he recalled the oddball previous owner who kept horses and two women in Ballymun. He chatted with myself and my brother, not as a rock star but as the guy who sold cowboy boots at weekends.

U2 3D. Photo: Veronica Blake

Sporting 3D specs, tonight was the one occasion when Bono’s trademark shades were not out of place. Strolling into the European premiere of U23D, the band were able to join their own audience and enjoy rock ‘n’ roll, U2-style.

As Adam Clayton said: “It’s actually much nicer to be in the audience knowing that you don’t have to jump around for an hour-and-a-half – you just have to sit there.”

Bono chats to the fans and jokes to the cameramen as they pose on the red carpet. I ask him how he feels about seeing himself in 3D: “Seeing the band in all their glory on the big screen can be painful,” he revealed.

“It has taken me 20 years to get photographers to make me look this tall. You thought our heads were big – wait till we get to the Imax,” he joked. “You see everything in the raw; you can’t cover the cracks.”

His beautiful wife, Ali, is waiting quietly in a corner of the cinema. She’s not too keen on the limelight and prefers to remain in the background. But I ask her if she’s seen the film yet?

“No I haven’t seen the film yet, but I don’t think it’s as good as hanging out with the real thing. It’s been quite a long time to get this film back to it’s home turf, and it’s been great,” said the busy mum of four.

Bono tells me there’s no place like home, in Dublin, where he’s not treated as a rock star. “I’m just dad who does the school run.”

He tells me that when it comes to aid and making progress on humanitarian issues the Irish were the best in the world.

“In regards to Africa, Ireland is in a leadership role. Our NGO’s are the best in the world, and I think Irish people – and especially Irish women – have a huge level of understanding and a huge say in what sort of help is given out.

“In my case, that’s even more evident as not only does my dear wife wear the trousers in that regard, now she also makes them,” he said referring to Ali’s ethical range of clothing.

Calling on an old friend

Singer Brian Kennedy, model Jodie Kidd, and actor Stephen Rea have joined the band to help celebrate the European premiere of the film. In keeping with the band’s sense of loyalty to their friends, they chose one of their oldest pals, Catherine Owens, to produce the film.

Bono tells me that he and Catherine go back almost 30 years, when Catherine fronted the all girl punk band The Boy Scoutz.

“I recall a drunken night in O’Connell St. being questioned by the Garda Schiocana as 17-year-old punks,” jokes Bono.

Catherine herself recalls me a different version. They they were introduced by The Edge and met when she was waiting for a cab in O’Connell St.

Catherine is the woman behind many of U2’s more eye-catching visual ideas, but long before Zoo TV she played bass for The Boy Scoutz .

“We weren’t thinking about being pop stars – we were just huge punk rock fans,” she recalls of her safety pin days. “We went to all the gigs that were on at the time.”

Since then, Owens has been U2’s visual content director on the ZooTV, Pop Mart, Elevation and Vertigo tours and directed the video for Original Of The Species.

But while she enjoyed making music, art was always her first love and after graduating from art college in Belfast, U2 commissioned her to make political wall hangings for their Dublin rehearsal space.

When they then asked her to give a lick of paint to some old Trabants for their Zoo TV tour, her future with the band was sealed. She created visuals for the Popmart and Elevation tours and, in 2006, directed U23D, the film of U2’s Vertigo tour in South America.

Owens finds the work more creatively fulfilling than banging out three chords on a bass guitar every night.

“We always kept in touch. they would visit me in Belfast when I was studying art,” she explains. “When they were doing Unforgettable Fire they asked me to do a set or wall murals. I’ve always loved experimental video work.

“With Edge and Larry there’s a great support network. The film is about a group of people who are saying it’s actually ok to be together.”

In fact, it was Catherine who pushed forward with the idea for the film in the first place.

“Pete Shapiro came to me with the idea. He thought we may be able to incorporate 3D in the live show,” she continued. “His brother, Jon, and John Modell were beginning an adventure in 3D.”

Embracing new technology

U2 3D. Photo: Veronica Blake

John was certainly in a position to fund the adventure since his father, Irish-American Art Modell, had sold the Baltimore Raiders for a cool $600 million, and he was in a position to finance the film.

Shapiro and Modell had access to the world’s best team of 3D cameramen and cinematographers.

The inspiration to shoot the biggest band in the world in concert using a revolutionary cinematic medium came after digital image producer Steve Schklair conceived a radically different approach to shooting 3-D.

By utilising in-camera motion control and real-time image processing and by eliminating the headache causing imperfections that plagued 3-D movies made with analog film cameras over the past century, the 3ality digitial process is able to capture an event as dynamic as a U2 stadium performance.

Schlair knew that the Shapiro brothers were looking for a more flexible, portable and cost-effective way to shoot live events such as concerts and sports for the big screen and they felt that 3-D would completely enhance the audience’s immersion into and connection with what they were experiencing on screen as if it were a virtual reality.

Together with the like minded Modell brothers – a well known family of pioneers in football and media – they developed the 3ality Digital 3-D camera system and put it through its paces at a few NFL games, including Super Bowl XXXVIII.

It was footage from those tests that convinced these innovators to pitch U2, their favourite live band, to front the first ever concert film in digital 3-D.

Peter Shapiro contacted Catherine Owens and convinced her to see this futuristic 3-D medium. She immediately saw the potential and lobbied the band to take a chance on the new technology which was very intriguing to them conceptually.

After shooting a single camera test during an early ‘Vertigo’ tour concert at Anaheim Pond 3ality ultimately received the thumbs up from U2 to travel and shoot on the road with the band in South America, with Owens as director.

Says Bono: “I felt that if we were going to do this right we had to do it in South America, since the band’s presence after an eight-year hiatus from the continent was certain to draw vibrant and enthusiastic crowds.”

I ask Bono why they chose Buenos Aires.

“Ireland and Argentina have so much in common, not just in terms of personalities but our passion and our shared history,” he explained. “They have had their difficult political past. But our differences based on our past should not prevent us from living a better future. We share much in common. The only difference is they can dance!”

Commenting on the decision to go for it in 3D, Bono added: “We did a test with the the producers in Anaheim. We looked at an NFL test that I liked. I thought if we could make it ours, and pick the technology, we could make it happen. I wanted to go somewhere magical with the creation of U23D, to intensify the feelings evoked at our live concerts.”

Our verdict on U2 3D

And happen it certainly did. The film is a revolution in 3D technology. It’s like having the best seat in the auditorium – but better; you’re right there. So close, in fact, that you can see the zits and the sweat on The Edge’s brow, or the veins in Bono’s throat as he hits the high notes on Miss Sarajevo.

You are transported to the stadium in Buenos Aires and feel the emotion of the fans ecstatically sing along, waving their arms to the classic ballads.

It’s so realistic an experience that you forget you’re in the cinema. You want to get up and dance in the aisles, sing and wave along with the fans.

The film so vividly captures the experience of being up at the front – and at times, even on the stage – for an exuberant live concert that the result is, to quote a U2 song not featured in the movie, even better than the real thing.

Seizing upon the possibilities of the state-of-the- art technology at their disposal, the film-makers plunge the viewer deep inside the infectious atmosphere of watching a great live band in concert.

There are moments when Bono reaches his hand out so close that you imagine you could shake it, or when he looks likely to prod you in the eye with a mic stand, and when the neck of Adam Clayton’s guitar seems to jut out of the screen. When on-screen audience members climb onto each other’s shoulders, you instinctively move your head for a better view.

But there’s also a remarkable sense of intimacy, particularly on the slower tracks (One, Pride, Miss Sarajevo, With or Without You), and there’s the strong temptation to go dancing in the aisles when the band whips the audience into a frenzy on Sunday Bloody Sunday, Beautiful Day, New Year’s Day and Vertigo.

Art Modell – who not only loves U2 but believed they were the right band to pioneer their groundbreaking technolgy – summed it up when he said: “In years to come Bono’s grandchildren will be able to experience his wonderful music through this technology, as if they were at the concert. What greater gift could he give them?”