U2 VidWorks – With or Without You

The video for “With or Without You,” the first song of U2’s to reach number one on the American charts, has an interesting and somewhat complicated history. It started life as a dark and moody and very artistic film from Matt Mahurin. Listening to the song, which is itself dark and kind of moody, it is easy to hear what inspired him to create the video in question. There is some nudity in his version of the video, which was obviously not appropriate for airplay on the mainstream MTV channel, and as fitting as this video is for the song, this version of the video would have been unlikely to give U2 the chart-busting hit that they were searching for. It is simply too difficult to understand and not accessible enough for conventional audiences. So, U2 turned to their reliable video-making partner, Meiert Avis, who had been responsible for most of their music videos up to that point, to shoot a more commercially viable music video. What Avis turned in, after some further shooting, is arguably the crowning achievement in his video-making career. If I had to guess, I would surmise that it is also the most popular video that U2 has ever made.
If you are watching the second, mainstream, video for the song, it is not difficult to pick out which parts are by which director. Most of the black and white footage of the band and the footage of the female model (more on her in a moment) are from the original Matt Mahurin video, while the color footage of the band performing, which makes up the bulk of the video, is by Meiert Avis. A study comparing the two, to see where the two men were going with their concepts for the song, is worthwhile in that it is quite compelling and interesting. Furthermore, one can also view Mahurin’s original video for the song on the DVD that came with the 25th anniversary box set release of The Joshua Tree. It is called the “alternate version” and it makes for some fascinating viewing. All of these years and all of that success later, it is easy to say that the band made the right choice by re-shooting the video. The success of “With or Without You” and by extension The Joshua Tree album gave U2 the freedom to do nearly all of what came later for the band, from Achtung Baby to Songs of Innocence, but I do like to wonder what might have happened to U2, how different the band’s career might have turned out if they had stuck with the original video.
One further note, in case you didn’t know, the female model who can be seen in both versions of this video is Morleigh Steinberg, who would later go on to dance onstage for U2 during the ZooTV tour and then, years later, marry The Edge. At the time that the video for “With or Without You” was shot, Edge was still married to his first wife, Aislinn, and he and Morleigh didn’t even meet for several more years.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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