I sometimes tend to think of the promo video for “Angel of Harlem” as a slightly inferior sibling to the video for “Desire.” This is because the two videos have a very similar style and vibe, and it is obvious when viewing them that they were directed by the same individual, Richard Lowenstein. It’s not that “Angel of Harlem” is a bad video, by any stretch…there are some interesting and worthwhile moments in this video, without a doubt. It just feels a little too similar to the video that preceded it. I suppose that there is something to be said for videos from the same album having similarities, and it might not bother me as much as it does if all of the videos from Rattle and Hum had a similar feeling…that would seem intentional. As it is, however, it feels less by design and more like Lowenstein just didn’t have a plethora of new ideas for “Angel of Harlem.”
As I stated above, there are some worthwhile moments in this video, and several of them come from the red carpet premieres of Rattle and Hum in both New York and Los Angeles. There is also an otherwise undocumented performance from Harlem’s Apollo Theater, to an empty house. This is noteworthy because, during 2018’s Apollo Theater show for SiriusXM, Bono made reference to the “first time [they] came here,” and this video shoot is what he was referring to. For those who don’t know, the Apollo Theater is a renowned venue for African-American performers and has been since it was opened to black patrons in the 1930s. Many famous African-American acts have played at the Apollo, particularly during the 30s and 40s, and the theater launched the careers of many of those talented musicians, including Billie Holiday, the ostensible subject of “Angel of Harlem.” It is appropriate for the above reasons that U2 should include a performance at the Apollo in the video for the song.
Viewing this video, I often get the feeling that Lowenstein was trying to serve two masters when he was coming up with the concept for the video. On one hand, he was trying to promote the film Rattle and Hum, and, to a lesser extent, to promote the band U2 with his video. On the other hand, he was trying to pay homage to Billie Holiday and other noteworthy African-American artists of America’s past. I don’t know if it would have made for more compelling viewing if he had stuck with one of those concepts throughout the entire video, especially since, as I stated in my first paragraph, the entire video feels a little too similar to “Desire” anyway. The other problem with Angel of Harlem, aside from the fact that it does feel too similar to the video for “Desire,” is that there is no idea or concept that sustains the video throughout its length. In “Desire,” we had the momentum, keeping things moving at the tempo of the song, which I took note of last week. While that same exact concept would have been too obvious for “Angel of Harlem,” and it wouldn’t have worked anyway since the song is much slower, there just isn’t any overarching concept to this video to take it from beginning to end. It’s a shame because there really are some memorable moments in this video, just none to really make it stand out on its own.
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