Phil Joanou on How He Came to Direct U2: Rattle and Hum

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Filmmaker Phil Joanou was at New Beverly Cinema when the theatre showed two of his films: “Three O’Clock High” and the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum.” While most of the evening was spent talking about “Three O’Clock High” as it had arrived at its 25th anniversary, Joanou did take some time to talk about how he was hired by U2 to direct their first music documentary (or rockumentary if you will). The story ended up becoming one of the strangest and funniest ones told on this evening.

Joanou was busy doing post-production on “Three O’Clock High” when his agent got him a meeting with U2 on the day before the band had to leave America for Ireland. They had already interviewed a number of directors already, but Joanou said they hit it off to where they asked him, “can you come to Dublin tomorrow?” He said sure, but he had to call the producer of “Three O’Clock High” to explain why he had to leave post-production on a little early. The producer apparently was not too happy about this sudden opportunity, but Joanou got to go anyway.

Once in Dublin, Joanou said U2 interviewed him for five days about directing “Rattle and Hum.” Where the story goes from there is not what you might expect as the band kind of left him hanging.

Phil Joanou: They would take me to a friend’s house and then Bono and Edge would leave and I would have dinner with the husband and wife. After that they took me to a wedding and they left me there as well. I’m there in Northern Ireland and I’m all by myself at an Irish wedding and I’m like, okay great! I don’t know anyone here. I had to figure out how to get home. So, they would do weird things like that to me. They’d drop me off at a bar and leave me. This went on for five days!

After all this craziness, U2 came up to Joanou and said, “alright, you can do the film.” Joanou said that to this day he still does not know what the criteria was for them hiring him, but he described making “Rattle and Hum” as being an “incredible experience.” Looking back, he described the Irish rock band as having taught him so much while being on the road and in the studio with them.

“Rattle and Hum” was greeted with a critical backlash when it came out as critics accused the band of being too grandiose and self-righteous. Watching it today, however, is a different experience as “The Joshua Tree” tour, as it is presented here, feels far more intimate than any tour they have done since. The musical numbers are exhilarating to watch, especially in black and white, and their journey through the American music scene gives us a number of unforgettable moments. But moreover, it was especially great to see it on the big screen for the first time in many years. Concert movies like these really need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

mlk-i-have-a-dream

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You had a dream. A dream that, after all we have been through these last few years, I would still love to see realized. And that’s regardless of how much damage has been caused around the world, let alone in America. Paranoia is getting worse and worse, and ignorance continues to be utter bliss for those in power.

Where is the America you dreamed of? Why does it always seem so far, far away? Your vision is one which needs to be embraced, and yet the world seems to keep descending into an endless abyss which it looks unlikely to escape from. Yet we celebrate your life because you had a dream and none of us, however depressed and demoralized we get, are ever willing to let it die.

You were willing to live and die for what you believed in, and this is the kind of bravery we sure could use today. We have been scared to speak our minds of the truth we are trapped in, and when we do speak it we are not heard by those in charge. People are still judged by the color of their skin even when we try to convince ourselves this should never be the case. The powerful voices of truth keep getting muffled by the powers that be, and it usually takes some illegal activity to get to the facts, facts which are now more malleable and less permanent than ever before.

Where is your dream, Dr. King? I guess that’s what I want to write about. I want to believe it is still possible that we can all be free at last. I just don’t know. The world keeps getting scarier and scarier, and I keep hiding away from it all. It gets to be too much sometimes, but it never did scare you, did it? So, who am I to complain?

Whatever happens and whatever befalls us, you will never be forgotten. Thanks Dr. King, and not just for the day off from work (that’s a coincidence more than anything else). Thanks for being a brave voice in a scary world which you refused to be intimidated by. Thanks for your dream which will never die. Ever. Thanks for remembering the most important of things, that we need to work together even when life seems to be bringing us all down.

Happy Birthday Dr. King. May your dreams be realized.

Above image courtesy of Getty Images.