I had a fun surprise last night -- an invitation to preview the new movie U2 3D. Spoiler alert: I'll be telling you how it ends. On the other hand, that might not be so important for a concert film.
U2 fans will absolutely LOVE this movie. I have stood at the feet of all four band members at various points (yes, including Larry -- I was in the very front row on the floor and directly in front of his mini-kit for "Love and Peace Or Else" when I saw U2 in DC). U2 fans know that if you're lucky enough to get tickets for the floor at a U2 concert, you're going to have to make some decisions. In front of Bono, Edge, or Adam, all of whom roam the stage, but have a particular spot to which they keep returning? If you're lucky enough to get into the 'heart' or 'ellipse' that forms a B-stage, are you going to try to be in the very front, knowing that you'll be closer to the band more of the time (being close enough to shout requests -- which they do take sometimes -- or converse a little is VERY fun), but might not be able to see them at all when they roam out on the B-stage?
In U2 in 3D, you don't have to decide; the camera roams. If you want to know the condition of Bono's roots (I'd advise him to lay off the hair dye and stick with his current crew cut) or Edge's pores (best skin in the band, I think), you'll be in heaven. The drawback, of course, is that you don't get to choose on whom you'll focus at a given moment; the director chooses for you. And the director isn't a guitarist, I'll wager; when the camera shows The Edge, there's usually light behind him or something about the angle that prevents you from seeing what he's actually playing. But that's the complaint of a guitar geek, and more often than not, I thought the director's visual choices were solid ones.
The musical choices I would have made differently. For starters, the film in 90 minutes long -- much shorter than a U2 concert. There's no "City of Blinding Lights," which opened most shows on the tour, and that I thought nearly recaptured the exuberance of 80's shows opening with "I Will Follow." "Mysterious Ways" got cut, I believe, as did "Elevation." And one of the most fun things about the Vertigo tour was how many old and seldom-played songs came out again to play -- I particularly loved being there for performances of "The Ocean" and "Cry/The Electric Co.," and I would have loved the chance to see U2 perform "Gloria" and "40" again in the film. But the technical demands and expense of the 3D technology made a longer movie impractical, as I understand it, and the bottom line is that this movie is a blast.
I admit I was wary of the 3D technology; the last time I think I saw something in 3D was from the children's magazine Dynamite, with cheesy glasses, one lens red and one blue, that you tore out of the magazine. The technology is MUCH better than that, as you'd expect, and the 3D contributed to the experience in ways I wouldn't have expected. There were a couple of 3D moments that felt a bit gratuitous -- I don't think I needed to have the neck of Adam's bass zoom out at my face quite as often as I found myself, and watching a 65-foot Bono reach out his hand toward me made me feel a bit like Fay Wray in King Kong, about to be carried up the Empire State Building by a gigantic rock star. And it's annoying enough in an actual concert when someone climbs up on another person's shoulders in front of you; I was even more annoyed in the few (and, thankfully, fleeting) moments when the 3D technology was used to replicate that experience in the film. But the 3D helped to convey the scale and energy of the arena in zooming shots over the crowd, and there's something about it that helped also to convey the chemistry between the band members -- how they communicate and joke around with one another during songs. And the technology was used to great effect during "The Fly," when the words and slogans that flash across screens in concerts drop down or zoom out at you in layers.
The best part of the technology, though, in my experience was the sound. The total surround sound of the IMAX theater made watching the movie feel like being at a concert, but with MUCH higher-fidelity music. The treble is crisp, so Larry's cymbals and even the subtle 'chink' sound of The Edge's trademark guitar picks (dimpled Herdim picks played with the flat end down, creating a percussive sound) came across with astonishing clarity. The bass rumbled impressively, and was brought forward in the mix particularly when the camera was on Adam, and it was the kind of rich bass you feel in your sternum. It felt loud in the ways you want a rock concert to feel loud, but with far fewer decibels; all but the most sensitive should be able to leave the earplugs at home (something that, as a musician, I NEVER do for a concert, and especially when I'm up front in an arena or stadium).
And the performances in U2 3D are classic U2 -- occasionally dramatic to the point of being maudlin or bludgeoning a metaphor, but earnest and moving. Bono's voice isn't what it used to be, but he knows how to use what he's got. The Edge's bluesy solo on "Bullet the Blue Sky" remains one of my favorites of his career. The rhythm section is tight (and Larry fans will rejoice to see lots of his bulging biceps). And this movie is about the music -- Bono doesn't preach more than a couple of sentences at a time between songs, and, interestingly enough, the ONE/Make Poverty History campaign aren't even fleetingly mentioned.
It's possible that politics (even politics with as diverse support as the Millennium Development Goals attract) were minimized in the film to maximize the opportunity posed by U2 3D to win new fans -- people who like U2 when they hear them on the radio, but who would never shell out the money and go through the traffic, crowds, and hassles of a live show. I doubt the film will do much of that. U2 is such a huge band that they're hard to avoid, and I think they've won most of the fans they'll have. That's an awful lot of fans, of course, and now fans of multiple generations (a LOT of parents bring children to U2 concerts, and in many cases, the kids know all the words too). I kind of missed those fans at the movie last night; the preview crowd was a very small one, and it looked to me mostly like executive types (grey hair, arriving in a suit and taking off their tie as they settled into their seats). The cheering and singing along was, I think, all from people in Buenos Ares, where U2 3D was filmed.
But folks, this is as close you'll get to the experience of a U2 concert without going to one -- or until U2's next tour. And that's more than good enough for the fans. U2 3D is a movie I'd be tempted to see again.
I love these guys
I love the Yes Men. They're "culture jammers" who draw attention to absolutely ridiculous things being proposed and carried out by corporations and politicians by posing as officials of the same agencies and either essentially one-upping them, carrying their ideas to their logical and absolutely ridiculous conclusion, or showing the world what it might look like if these agencies admitted their policies were inhuman and they were going to do things differently. There's a wonderful, entertaining, and often absolutely hilarious documentary -- I'd use it in a heartbeat to start discussion in a youth group or other gathering -- about their work trying to raise awareness about the World Bank's policies, and I'm glad to say that another one's coming out sometime next year that will document, among other things, their recent "prank" to raise public awareness regarding Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policies regarding the demolition of housing for working-class people in New Orleans.
I love the library
I'll never forget a conversation I once had with a student when I was TAing introductory Greek literature and culture. She came in to office hours to ask whether she could borrow a copy of Aristophanes' The Clouds, as she'd lent her copy to a friend and it was a required text for the course. I was feeling a little testy that afternoon, so I said something like this:
“Unfortunately, I only have one copy of the play, and I need it for teaching. But there's a great program on campus where you can just walk into this building, take any book you want off the shelves, and they'll lend it to you FOR FREE for weeks at a time. They've got practically anything you'd want, and if they don't have it, they'll borrow it from someone else to get it to you.”
“Wow ... I can't believe they've got a program like that for free and they don't advertise it,” the student gushed excitedly.
“It's called the 'library,' I said.”
But although I've used libraries for research a lot, I hadn't been to a library to check out anything for fun since I was in junior high, and I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to have this place where you can go and borrow not just books, but movies and CD's for free. And I've fallen in love with my local library. It's just a few blocks from my house, it's got free parking for when I want to stop by on my way home from grocery shopping or somesuch, and it's one of those rare instances of a recently-erected public building that's beautifully designed -- bright with lots of warm woods.
Their selection of nonfiction isn't what I'd want from a seminary library; for example, I've never read Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, for example, even though I think I'm guessing from the title that I'd find it the best of his books, simply because I'm trying to buy as few books as possible. That's for financial reasons, since editing The Witness is only a part-time job, and my bishop has decided I should get another master's in divinity starting in September, which means both that I won't be able to get a full-time job until after I've finished and that we'll have to come up with seminary tuition and living expenses to maintain two households (since Karen's job isn't portable, and seminaries within commuting distance from here don't have enough flexibility in their curricula to allow me to do a third theological master's without repeating a lot of what I've done before. I'm also trying not to buy more books because I've already got five floor-to-ceiling bookcases full, most of which are on biblical studies and theology, and I don't see how I can fit what I've got into a seminary dorm room.
Anyway, the library doesn't have A Generous Orthodoxy. They get most books from folks of Pat Robertson's theological ilk -- I imagine that conservative Christians are vocal about requesting them -- but they don't have nearly as much selection in popular books from progressive Christian authors. They do, however, have a really good selection of DVD's, and I'm making good use of their collection. I'm also doing something that might surprise y'all:
I'm reading the Left Behind series. I usually try to keep abreast of anything in pop culture that's getting people talking about theology, but I just couldn't bring myself to generate any profits for that particular franchise, so I didn't buy them -- and since I didn't buy them, I didn't read them. But then I got hooked on slacktivist's posts on the first book, and then I rediscovered the library -- that wonderful building where they let you borrow books for free. Now I'm reading the books (I read quickly, so I can get through one of them in an afternoon) without giving the authors any money. I'm on the sixth volume now, and though it's getting pretty tiresome, I'll probably finish the series. While I doubt I'd blog about them anywhere near as well as slactivist does, and I definitely don't have the patience to post on every chapter as he does, I'll probably blog a bit and fairly generally about the series and its theology.
I also have a new year's resolution, and that's to follow through on something I've wanted to do here for a while: post frequently to my resources page. There have been many, many times when I've rented a movie or read a book because I thought it might be helpful for a youth group, a small group for adults, or in some other area of parish life, and this year I plan to start sharing those regularly on SarahLaughed.net.
Hope y'all had a joyous Christmas, and are finding the new year off to a good start.