Shooting the Fly

Propaganda, December 1991 Issue (1991-12-xx)

Even before the band finished recording the new album, they had to take a break to make the video for the single of “The Fly” which took place in Dublin and London’s Soho. Propaganda reports from the scene of the shooting.

Standby. Playback. Bleep, Bleep, Bleep. Suddenly the opening bars of “The Fly” come roaring from the walls of a smallish, darkened club-size room in a warehouse on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Dublin. On an all-white set with just a drum-kit for company, Edge, Larry and Adam are pretending to play their instruments as Bono lurches around like a drunken man, miming the lyrics as if his life depended on it.

“It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky, It’s no secret that our world is in darkness tonight They say the sun is sometimes eclipsed by a moon, Y’know I don’t see you when she walks in the room.”

Banks of lights blaze into the eyes of the band as a small battalion of cameras descend on the singer, like flies engorging his face as his lips squeeze out the lines. Behind the moving cameras, off-set, stand an army of other contributors to U2’s first new video in four years, photographers, make-up artists and sound technicians all with special jobs to do and a special sense of urgency in getting them done. It is mid-September and although “The Fly” may be in the can, the rest of Achtung Baby is not there yet. The band have one more working week in which to get the new songs completed before the master tape flies off to Los Angeles under the protection of Edge for “the cut.” In consequence of which, today, a Friday, is the only day available to shoot the performances element of the new video. “We said they’ve got four hours on this one,” says Bono, reasonably enough. Everyone is moving quickly. The song is over, end of take, make up please and Richie Smith, a young Dublin photographer, film-maker and contemporary of the band, who is directing the live sequences, discusses with the band what he wants next. Standby. Playback. Bleep, Bleep, Bleep. Take two. Again the soundtrack roars from the speakers and again the band give it everything, as if this is a live show before a hundred thousand enthralled fans. The strangest thing of all as the song ends is the silence that follows. Silence broken by chatter and barked instructions. But no epic, deafening roar of approval from excited fans. “True,” says Edge when I mention this peculiarity, “It is a little bit odd. Maybe we could instruct the crew to applaud at the end of each take.” Another take. Another. Another. The afternoon flies by as the director suggests slight nuances in each new performance, and the band endeavor to find new ways to articulate the same song. It begins to appear, er, just a touch dull. “This one is not boring to be honest,” explains Bono, against expectations. “It’s nothing compared to ‘With Or Without You’ which took two days of filming and was incredibly tedious.” “Videos are not the most exciting aspect of being in a rock and roll band,” adds Edge. “Most of the time it’s just four guys pissing around pretending to play guitar and drums and trying to look like they’re having a good time. That’s all it as.” Bono expands a little on the current concept: “We’ve created our own TV station this time round, Zoo TV, and this is the set for the pop programme.” Zoo TV is set to run and run. “With any video you have to figure out how to do something which makes sense of the music,” explains Edge. “Today is relatively easy, just a performance, just playing the song.” Later, in London with a different director things get a little less straightforward. Edge explains, “We’ve got this mad New Yorker Jon Klein who’s written sketches to go into the video and we’ve let his imagination loose. Bono is The Fly but the rest of us are not in that part of the video which suits me fine.” Klein’s previous work with MTV signaled his arrival as one of a new breed of TV makers, reinventing televisual imagery, whose art is the edit. Edge points out that pop-videos are getting more boring as it gets harder to have original ideas and as old ideas get over-used. “The video is an attempt at bringing some humour into the medium – when was the last time you laughed at something on MTV. It’s all firmly tongue in cheek.” “Rattle and Hum was us exploring American music which started with The Joshua Tree. Bono has said that Achtung Baby is the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree.”

“It’s no secret that a friend is someone who lets you help It’s no secret that a liar won’t believe anyone else They say a secret is something you tell one other person So I’m telling you…child. Low Voice A man will beg A man will crawl On the sheer face of love Like a fly on a wall It’s no secret at all Gospel Voice Love, we shine like a Burning star We’re falling from The sky…tonight”

Another take, beginning with Bono exhaling cigar smoke into Edge’s face. The guitarist smile and moves up into the camera lens anyway. A crane with a camera on the end leers across the set like a huge giraffe with swivel eyes taking in the scene from on high. More footage. “Right, can we go straight into another?” asks the director, in a voice which countenances no refusal. Time for take seven. Fintan Fitzgerald and Nassim Khalifa wander on again to fix hair and dry sweat. A spotlight goes out above Larry on drums. Everything stops. The technician comes out to fix it. Take five. “What’s the vibe this time, “asks Richie Smith of Bono. “Is it a six, an eight, a ten?” Bono obviously understands this mathematical language of the performance. He responds, “Let’s try for a four.” A four it is, pared back to slow motion, moodier than ever with the singer now masked in eye shadow. This time the director wants to take two takes straight off, without stopping. More waiting. More takes. Same song. Everyone knows the words off by heart now. It’s starting to sound a sure-fire commercial winner, not the dark, sonic stranger it is on first listening. “Dancing Queen Take Three,” announces Bono, the speakers boom and the cameras roll again. This time — take twelve — he is leaping around the set like a boxer, taunting the camera lens, climbing up the white walls of the set and leaving scuff marks as he falls down them. Adam, rock-like, is rooted to the middle of the scene, Larry in his Ramones T-shirt hammers away, unfazed by Bono’s antics on the wall behind him, while the song builds again into a soaring cacophony of sound. Take Fifteen. This time the vocalist traverses the set in the huge lolloping strides of a crippled man, now he is climbing the walls like a madman in an asylum, like a prisoner in jail, a fly trapped in a room with no exit. Each take throws new light on the central character, The Fly. “He’s the kind of character,” explains Bono, chatting between takes, “who has all the answers…who shot the Kennedy’s. A barfly, he’s made himself a self-appointed expert on the politics of love, a bullshit philosopher…who occasionally hits the nail on the head but more often it’s his own finger nail he leaves black and blue…” The Fly’s point of view is always mixed up, sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful, mirrored by the music, a strange sonic recipe of dark blues and light gospel thrown down into the same track. The band take a break and an endoscopic camera is rigged up, a fiber-optic contraption more used to employment in the hospital surgery for internal examinations. “It gives a completely different image,” explains Ned O’Hanlon, who is producing the video. “It’s pretty unusual to use one in a video like this. Bono can get right up to it but it’ll still pick up every one else in the band behind him.” Things are going well. They must be, four hours are long past and the band are happy to carry on for the evening. Bono, theatrically dribbling whiskey and seducing the unusual lens, is singing and another take is under way. Make-up want to dab away the sweat. The director likes the sweat. Bono laughs and looks into the mirror, hair sticking out he thinks he looks like Nana Mouskouri.” Some food arrives to keep them going and while Bono does solo takes for the cameras, the others discuss the progress of the unfinished record. The night is not over yet, Adam, Larry and Edge all have to do solo takes themselves and then all four of them will set off to Windmill Lane to carry on mixing tracks into the next morning. Ten days later. The scene this time is the upper room of a pub in the red-light district of London’s Soho. Eleven a.m. and twenty people are busily talking. They are all different faces except for Ned, the producer. They are mainly actors and actresses, odd, portly, pot-bellied men, young girls, people carrying suitcases of costumes, a luminous yellow “policeman” jacket hung on the door. There is anticipation in the air and at the hub of it sits Jon Klein, talking ninety to the dozen to his assistant director and his cameramen. A wire-festooned remote-control device lies on a table, replete with luck charms and feathers. Someone pulls a lethal looking replica pistol from its holster. A spiv-looking man with a flicknife says to Jon that he was thinking perhaps he could be cleaning his teeth with it on camera. Jon doesn’t like the spivs tie, “No, sleazier than that…” Tracey, a tall blonde actress is introduced to the director. “Basically, Tracey we’re just walking around today, but on Wednesday we’re going to put welts on your back.” “Great,” says Tracey, with just a hint of doubt in her expression. “Like you’ve just been beaten,” “Fine.” Meanwhile up on the roof of the London Pavilion, the cameras are focusing all the way down Picadilly, with the traffic streaming towards Picadilly Circus below them, the heart of London’s West End. Half a mile away, down past the Royal Academy of Arts, a man in black leather jacket, peculiar dark glasses dominating his face, is waiting for ‘action’ from Jon Klein on the radio mike. “It’s not really acting,” says Ned, “But it is with actors.” Bono obviously has other ideas. He is acting up and loving it. “This character The Fly that Bono is playing,” explains Jon Klein, “Well he’s like a cracked visionary and that’s a part Bono can do easily.” His face breaks into a knowing grin. “The last three albums have been of a piece in some ways,” says the director, “What we want to do here is start a new chapter. The Fly feels different to me.” Bono is having a whale of a time sauntering up Picadilly like he owns the city. At a souvenir stall he buys a model London bus and races out into the moving traffic to plant it under the path of a life-size moving version of the same vehicle — about to run him down. A cigar dangles from his mouth like it’s been fixed there. Outside Tower Records he crosses at the lights and begins to hassle people, trying to get them to look at the headlines in the newspaper he is holding — “Another Bum” reads the invisible think bubbles above their heads as they wearily push him aside and continue their hectic lives.

“It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest It’s no secret that ambition bites the nail of success Every artist a cannibal, every poet is a thief All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief.”

On the steps of Eros the statue to the Greek god of Love, a band is busking and drawing a healthy audience. Bono wanders up behind them and whispers in their ear. The cameras are rolling, devouring the footage in delight. The audience don’t know that the man behind the weird glasses has played to the crowd before. He shouts into the microphone, “The CIA have put a machine in my brain.” The audience look bemused, a bit embarrassed. Another hobo, probably mentally sick, oh dear. The busking band don’t seem to mind, especially when the Fly thrusts a hundred dollars into their hands in gratitude. They can barely believe their luck. He takes a break on the steps on the other side next to Japanese family having a picnic lunch. Some passers by realize who’s looking out from behind the shades. A little crowd develops: autographs, broken conversation, speechlessness, everybody wishing their best friend could have been with them, they’ll never believe it. Jon Klein arrives, breathless as any fan, having raced down from the top of the Pavilion. He is ecstatic. “That was great man. I’m not going to direct you, you don’t need it, you feel it.” Bono can’t get over his surprise that when he accosted some tourists on the zebra crossing and announced “Achtung Baby” to them, they replied in their mother tongue, German. Now as the afternoon considers becoming an evening, Bono is out in the crowds again, tracked by the ever- loving lenses, and distributing Zoo TV leaflets. A builder gets angry with his apprentices for watching the scene: “Never mind the pop music, fill the bloody skip…” Meanwhile over at Paramount City Theatre, as the prostitutes look out their doorways even more bored than everybody else, two young actresses are shooting their scene with the spiv and The Fly. The bright, fluorescent signs read Foxy Ladies, Live Sex Show and the territory, Fly territory, gets seedier. “The Fly is Blues and Gospel, Heaven and Hell,” explains Bono. “The Fly can see both sides but he isn’t quite sure which one he’s on.”

Low Voice “A man will beg Love, A man will crawl On the sheer face of love Like a fly on a wall It’s no secret at all Gospel Voice we shine like a Burning star We’re falling from The sky…tonight

Bono is walking down a narrow alley kissing bouncers at strange clubs, gazing curiously into shop windows, and busting into one shop to carouse suggestively in the windows as the cameras roll. He steals an apple from a fruit shop and gives it to a lady of the night in the next doorway. He is playing the role of a man who is right on the edge of morality and immorality, beyond it: “He’s amoral,” says Bono. “Perhaps he’s totally wrong, perhaps he’s totally right.” Who knows? He’s The Fly, he sees things differently to everyone else. At eight in the evening everyone has ascended to the roof of the Pavilion, where you can touch the darkness that has now descended over the center of London and its bright shining lights. Across the way, the huge electronic advertising hoarding which transmits slogans for advertisers round the clock, has stopped showing Maxell Tape and is suddenly bearing strange slogans from its huge screen: Believing…Dog…God… It’s all part and parcel of Zoo TV, a concept linked to “Zoo Station” on the record. Zoo Station in Berlin is a place the band discovered when recording there, the train station where East Berliners disembarked when they visited the West. “Search me,” says Paul McGuinness when asked what Zoo station is about. “Search me.” It will become clearer as the songs are released and the show hits the road in the spring. The electronic words flash up again…

“Oh yeah It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky The universe exploding ‘cosa one man’s lie Look I gotta go Yeah I’m running outta change There’s a lot of things If I could I’d rearrange”

Hundreds of feet below people walk to the station, couples visit the cinema, some sit on Eros chatting, the lights on the cars flash by and life goes on oblivious of the fly on the roof. Jon Klein waves his torch like a madman in Bono’s face and a beat-box plays back the new single as Bono sings to it. Now it is nearly midnight and the Walworth Road in South London. Scene the last. Take some more. Take. Take. Take. A TV shop called Bob’s Boxes which boldly declares, “We buy all TVs and Videos for Spot Cash.” Tonight its window is jammed not with second hand sets but 16 state-of-the-art large screen televisions, all brand spanking new and simultaneously transmitting images from video footage shot of U2 during their European travels in the making of Achtung Baby. A big black chair sits outside the shop with the remote-control device in it, ready for The Fly’s arrival. An electronic screen at the foot of the shop window evangelistically proclaims the message, “Watch More TV” in sharp red letters. Ready to roll but for one thing — the tape deck to play the song through isn’t really loud enough for the business. Someone called John Dodds swings up the street in his BMW with music screaming from his in-car system and finds himself and his machine commandeered by Bono for playback purposes. (“I don’t mind at all,” says John, “It’s 1200 watts in here, I came fifth in the Sound Off competition for in-car stereo systems at Wembley Conference Centre.” Tape rolls and a woman wanders onto camera to offer The Fly some of her Chinese take-away, which he naturally accepts. Take two. This time an old hobo wanders onto camera and impresses the singer with his news that he is from Dublin. Take three. The TV screens light up the street with images taken from the performance shoot in Dublin ten days ago. Meanwhile The Fly changes channels with his eccentric remote device. There are 150 people in the street watching the filming intently. Even as Bono performs he is being filmed from inside the shop by a hidden camera so that he also appears on the screens, the fly on the wall of televisions. Everyone viewing is seeing more than the millions who will watch the video when it hits the screens. Lots of the ideas, the actors, the locations will be left on the cutting room floor, never to be seen again. At 12:25 a.m. it is time to clock off the filming. Now that “The Fly” has been shot, it only has to be cut.

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