U2: A Year in Pop

HOLLYWOOD (Variety)–ABC joins U2’s project mesh with a low-key infomercial to launch PopMart, the Irish band’s world tour that kicks off Friday in Las Vegas.

The bulk of the show is essentially a study of the premise that U2 rose to the top of the rock world and, in the nineties, has effectively reinvented itself through one elaborate tour, two edgy albums, and a handful of side projects.

The special will include footage from the opening gig at Sam Boyd Stadium to complement the story of the band’s evolution and the making of the current Island disc Pop, which debuted at No. 1 in twenty-seven countries and has shipped more than four-million copies since its March 4 release. In the U.S. it has sold about 850,000 copies.

PopMart, U2’s first tour since 1992’s monumental Zooropa outing, is expected to hit more than 100 cities in fourteen months and could well be seen by more than six-million people. How many members of that rock audience are at home watching TV on Saturday at 10:00 p.m. remains to be seen.

Starting with a trip through the Vegas Strip, the contrived script attempts to draw parallels between betting on dice and cards and the gamble of a rock ‘n’ roll tour of these dimensions. Narrator Dennis Hopper has plenty of bus-bombing Howard Payne in his delivery, attempting to strike up a level of excitement that the principals don’t project in their interview segments.

U2’s early history (1976-87) is glossed over quickly–about the length of time it takes to show them performing the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”–and the amount of screen time devoted to band manager/exec producer Paul McGuinness starts the evening with an air of excessive spin control. The hour-long program extensively examines the post Joshua Tree era of assimilating electronic dance music into U2’s heady broth with each band member offering thoughts on the creative process. None of it is much worth quoting.

Director Maurice Linnane overuses split screens and picture-in-picture to pair a tightly shot talking head with grainy concert or travelogue footage. The discussions of side projects–Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton revitalizing the Mission:Impossible theme, the Passengers’ imaginary soundtrack disc made with producer Brian Eno, etc.–shed the most light on each band member’s predilection, positing quite rightly how those undertakings have emerged as signposts of what the band has become.

Zooropa, a model of intelligent staging, has found its only peer in the last two Rolling Stones tours, and the challenge of PopMart, as Hopper rightfully points out, is to cast an equally bold image–one that might well be the band’s last in this millennium. What U2: A Year in Pop presents, however, is four unassuming individuals intent on creating interesting and timely music, near polar opposites of the bombast that will define U2’s current stage. To the credit of McGuinness and U2, they have taken advantage of a unique opportunity to present themselves with no hints of nostalgia.

The sound quality was iffy on the tape supplied; one suspects a final mix supervised by esteemed producer Flood will add a considerable sonic boost. –Phil Gallo

With: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Paul McGuinness, Vincent Fremont, Roy Lichtenstein, Allen Ginsberg.

Narrator: Dennis Hopper.

Filmed and taped in Dublin, Las Vegas and Miami by Dreamchaser Prods. in association with U2. Executive producer, Paul McGuinness; producer, Ned O’Hanlon; director, Maurice Linnane; writer, Barry Devlin; editor, Philip Cullen; cameras, Cian de Buitlear, Chuck Fishbein, Donal Gilligan, Joe Edwards, Morleigh Steinberg; post-production sound, B. Lucky Butler IV; PopMart live video director (Las Vegas), Monica Caston; live sound, Joe O’Herlihy; live sound supervision, Flood; PopMart show designer, Willie Williams.


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