Anton Corbijn has been helping to define U2 since 1982, producing iconic photographic images that capture the sound and feeling of each new album. Think of the band in the snow for 'War', in the desert for 'The Joshua Tree' or at the departure gate for 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' and you are thinking of an Anton Corbijn shot.
This work has established the Dutchman as one of the greatest rock photographers of all time, with a unique style - but he won fresh acclaim with his debut movie 'Control', the hit of the Cannes Film Festival after its release in 2007.
For the new album U2 asked Corbijn not just to take the pictures but also to make a film to accompany 'No Line On The Horizon'. The result is 'Linear': not a music video but a companion piece that takes themes from the songs and turns them into a mesmerising road trip.
You can unlock a download of the film by buying the digipack, magazine or hardback book box format of the album. Here, in a two-part chat from The Hague, where he now lives, Corbijn reveals the origins of 'Linear' and some of the secrets of his work with U2.
How did 'Linear' come about?
Linear was born when we were in Morocco in June 2007. I did some filming with the band, including some bits where I asked them not to move. It was like a photograph done on film in which they were still but there were lots of other things moving, such as birds flying around. Bono then thought it would be an idea that if you downloaded an album, instead of looking at the sleeve in your hands you could have something else that moves a little bit. That stuck with him. In May last year they asked if I was interested in making something moving for the duration of the album. I filmed in July and edited in August.
Why did you choose to interpret the album in this way?
The direction was given by Bono's departure from writing lyrics out of his own experience. He had invented five characters to write songs from or about. One of them was a motor cop in Paris, of North African origin, who packs it all in and wants to go back to his girlfriend in North Africa. I took that one character and developed the idea as a linear story that plays out over the course of the album. Two songs are close to music videos, but the others are more like video art and all that on-the-road footage we have all seen. Easy Rider for the 21st Century, sort of thing.
Can you describe what happens during the course of the film?
You see a little of the life of the motor cop and that he hates what is happening between immigrants and police in Paris. At the end of the first firm he stops for a graffiti sign that says, in French, 'Fuck The Police'. He burns his bike then decides to go on his own machine to southern Spain to cross the Mediterranean to North Africa. On the way there are landscapes, there are introspective parts where he contemplates, and there's also still reference to different things happening, for example in 'Being Born', but he withstands it all and continues on his journey. It all takes place over about 24 hours.
Which of the songs on the album are about or written from the perspective of the character in your film, the Parisian cop?
I have no idea. I haven't translated the lyrics into visuals, although some of the images really fit. 'Cedars of Lebanon' goes well [with film of the cop setting off from the beach in a boat]. But Bono changed the lyrics dramatically towards the end of last year. The running order was also changed after the film had been finished. We had to re-edit quite a bit. There was a moment when I thought we would have to dump the film because too much had changed. I think the song 'Winter' was left out. We agreed in the end that I would keep my running order and 'Winter' but would edit to suit the new mixes.
What was your reaction to the album when you first heard it?
Well, I had been with them for a week in Morocco and heard the beginning of a lot of songs. The trouble is that if you hear it for the first time with the band, there is a good chance you will have Bono standing next to you shouting all the lyrics into your ear, and saying, 'And now comes this ...' It's difficult to be objective.
Initially, I wished there was more of the Moroccan elements still in there, but I have grown to really like it. I like 'Unknown Caller' a lot. There are new sounds in there, although it is unmistakably U2. I like that a lot of the songs felt long, less like a tailored pop song and more epic.
Were you given a free hand with the content of 'Linear'?
Yes. The only discussion I had with Bono was about his feeling that there should be more anger in the cop's behaviour at the beginning. This is why I had him set his bike on fire.
There will be a great deal of interest in 'Linear' because of the success of 'Control'. Why did you choose to make the subject of your first movie Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division?
Looking back it was a film I needed to do because of my own link to the subject matter. Music like that was one of the main reasons why I moved to England [to take pictures for the likes of the NME, which is how he came to meet U2] and also the reason why I moved back to Holland now, because I have finished that whole cycle of my life. 'Control' was a great place to start for me because I understood the subject matter and that gave me something more than the average director. All my inexperience as a filmmaker was balanced out by the emotional depth I had.
I am trying to do different things now, to grow as a filmmaker. My next film will be a thriller that takes place in Italy, totally unrelated to music. It is about completely different things, although the element of the loner will be part of it, as in 'Control' and now 'Linear'.
(This interview first appeared on the U2.com Subscribers site).