With their Joshua Tree at 30 tour hitting these shores tomorrow, and the Beatles’ It Was 50 Years Ago Today! still fresh in the memory, now seems as good a time as any to take a retrospective look at U2’s keystone contribution to the rockumentary genre. Turning 30 years old itself next year, the (mainly) black-and-white Rattle and Hum offers an even more raw, gritty and electrifying experience than it did then.
Before we go any further, this article has been penned by a fan. Yes, yours truly firmly believes that the Irish rockers are the best thing to come out of Dublin’s fair city since 1759 (if that’s been lost on you, just google ‘1759 Dublin’). So in case it shows now and again that this is a rose-tinted review, I apologise in advance. Which leads us rather conveniently to a big question: how much is this a film for the fans? Will those who find Bono and company a little too much at times be nauseating by the end credits? If he/they have a tendency to get on your nerves from time to time, there’s enough preaching on-stage to back this up.
As its it turned out, the making of this movie came just before the band reached a crossroads in their career, from which they not only emerged unscathed but successfully reinvented themselves for the 1990s. Subsequently, this is some of the last decent footage of U2 in their rockier 80s guise. For some, the term ‘rockumentary’ is misleading, as this is officially a ‘concert movie’ (if you can tell me the difference, answers on a postcard please), which puts it in the same bracket as flicks like Woodstock and Green Day‘s Bullet in a Bible. These films are considered important because, whilst they don’t necessarily make much of an impact upon release, they capture a band or artist at a certain point in their career; a moment or moments encapsulated. Rattle and Hum was a bit of a flop back in 1988, but now it is a perfect illustration of why U2 were the biggest live band at the time.
It also offers a snapshot of how the music industry and society in general have altered in the intervening years. Yes, Bono’s obsession with various political issues and global problems isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but nowadays it no longer seems fashionable for performers to protest about the big issues, something that has been the hallmark of many of the greats. Are upcoming acts even allowed to voice such opinions? It would be a shame if it was censored altogether. Unfortunately, Bono does overdo it slightly when trying to connect with the audience at one particular show, but such moments are tempered by a fair few of those rare occasions where the rest of the band are allowed to speak (to the camera, at least). Not only is this a detailed portrait of America and its music, it’s also an in-depth peak into the U2 bubble.
This is a reminder of why they have been the monster that they have for three decades, and a useful illustration for those who firmly that believe rock n’ roll just ain’t what it used to be. For that alone, it provides something for all music enthusiasts.