The New Beverly Theater, an art-house theater in Los Angeles, recently hosted an event showing of "3 'o Clock High" and "Rattle & Hum" with a Q&A with Phil Joanou and actors from 3 'o Clock High. I live in LA and go to many events at the New Beverly Theater, which happens to be owned and curated by Quentin Tarantino. There were a lot of people who enjoyed 3'o clock high and especially the fun Q&A with Joanou (who, if he dyed his hair, you'd never guess has aged a day), Richard Tyson (almost ditto), and Philip Baker Hall (timeless). The Q&A was mostly about 3'o clock high, although the really touching thing is that PBH is barely in the movie, but came out to the event because one of his closest friends played the vice principal in the movie and died only a few years ago (John P. Ryan). He had some touching anecdotes. Richard Tyson surprised the crowd when he was asked what he did before he came out to Hollywood, and it turns out he has a Master's in Theater from Cornell University and was a drama professor there as well! You'd never guess with that tough guy look and act he's done so well. Phil's from LA, and when 3 'o clock opened nationally, he and his friends went to the local theater where they saw Alien, Superman, Star Wars, Jaws, and other favorite movies. Phil was devastated by the fact that at the Friday night 8pm showing, he and his 2 friends were amongst less than 10 people total. The movie bombed. Phil thanked the New Beverly crowd because he said there were more people here that cared about this movie than that night and that meant a lot to him.
The crowd got bigger for Rattle and Hum, though. A lot of people in their 20s, and mostly women, which was interesting. Phil didn't talk much about U2, but he did make some nice and interesting comments. He was asked how he got the job. Phil was in post-production on 3'o clock high when he was offered to meet with U2 as an interview for the job. He explained that because he was known at the time as Spielberg's protege (he directed a couple episodes of Amazing Stories, including the pilot, and Spielberg essentially green lit the movie via his power at Universal at the time), his name always came up with studios and producers at the time as the next hot director.
He flew out to Dublin when he was supposed to be editing 3PM High. He met with each band member individually, although they each ditched him. Bono ditched him at the home of a couple where they were all supposed to have dinner (he stayed for dinner). Someone ditched him at a bar. Each time, U2's friends and associates would stay and entertain, but they would also ask subtle questions to suss him out. He didn't hear from them, and suddenly they offered it to him. He went on to say that the 3PM High-Rattle & Hum-State of Grace (the next feature he made) period of his career was the best period of his creative life. He's basically a work for hire director now (he directed a movie with the Rock not too long ago), so I'm hoping he gets more work soon.
I have only seen Rattle & Hum on film once as an IMAX projection (and I'm pretty sure it was just a standard projection just blown up), and the rest of the multiple viewings on VHS, DVD and HD TV. Seeing this film for the first time on film on a regular size film screen was a revelation. The black and white footage is so much more palpable; you can see Joanou's debt to Scorcese (he said he was his biggest influence). Watching the black and white scenes was like watching a rock and roll version of "Raging Bull". People clapped after Helter Skelter, Exit, Bad, With or Without You, and Pride.
When Sun Devil Stadium came up, I could sense the whole theater getting excited with me. The silhouettes were much starker on film. When the house lights came up and the whole enormous sellout crowd was revealed, the theater noticeably gasped.
My overall impression of the film now, having truly seen it as it was meant to: To me, the film is great up until they go to Sun Studios and the Save the Yuppie concert in SF. BB saves it and the rest is a smooth and really strong ending. You don't really get a full sense of why they went to Sun Studios. Yes, it's impressive that you got Elvis' engineer and the original tile flooring, but why did you want to go? Was it just a bit of what Bono has called "creative tourism" (re: "Miami")? It's not even addressed. The STY concert footage lags mainly because I think it's a weak version of the song. I'm a die hard U2 fan with tons of bootlegs from over the years. U2 would probably be the first ones to admit that the first time they ever played a song live was almost never the definitive version they end up playing. The Dublin Point Depot 1989 NYE show has the best U2 performance of this song, IMO. This was as weak as you could expect when you see them half assing it in the trailer before they play. I've seen it a million times, but seeing Paul McGuinness ask on camera, "Who do we know that knows all the words to 'All Along The Watchtower'?" on the big screen has a different effect. It doesn't even seem like a song they were super excited to play under that context, and the performance betrays it. It feels like someone convinced them they had to play a big hippie/liberal anthem for a SF crowd, and this was the easiest one they could learn. World's worst wedding band, and all that.
But the way the film works with BB King and then to Graceland and then to Larry's aside about his whole take on Elvis is beautifully done. Hearing Bono explain to the Texas crowd that they recently got into BB and figured 'let's see if we can hook up when we're in his town' was such an organic segue into the whole chapter of the movie; the Sun Studios segment could have used some better context. Meeting BB, going through rehearsals, and hearing BB nicely compliment Bono on the lyrics was a lovely edited piece of film.
The trip to Graceland was more mournful on screen, and Larry's point about Elvis' grave in the back garden seemed even more bittersweet. Deep down you can tell he's scared that he could be another innocent but talented country bumpkin who let success ruin his short life. It's Larry's loss of innocence moment, if you will. Bad is the perfect complement to this moment in the film.
My favorite parts of the film: Exit and WOWY.