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This is a documentary about the making of the follow up to "Born To Run". "Darkness" was a good record, but it was somewhat of a letdown after a three year drought, which was primarily due to management/legal issues. There are great songs on "Darkness", but there are very forgettable songs also. Also, this was the record where Springsteen began to write about things beyond New Jersey/New York. This record is more about America's heartland. The documentary captures studio patter and new interviews, including the late Danny Federici. If you are a big Springsteen fan, you will give this a nine. However, unlike the recent excellent Rush-Beyond The Lighted Stage and Anvil documentaries, this is a myopic film, just about that record. To be fair, I loved Springsteen's music then, but have since felt like he has lost his creative muse. Also, this documentary will not give you full on versions of the songs, so if you haven't heard the record more than a few times, you'll have to acquaint yourself with it or it will be more or less not interesting. The interviews are okay, nothing revelatory. Springsteen is not a good interview, he seems almost monosyllabic at times. A much better documentary is "No Direction Home", the Bob Dylan documentary about his early years, as Dylan himself is fascinatingly reflective in it. I gave it a 7 for nostalgic reasons. If you don't like Springsteen don't watch this. Fairly well done, but it could have been much more interesting.
Like the bulk of music fans from my generation, my first impression of
Bruce Springsteen was established when I was young, back when Bruce was
doing the Born in the USA thing. He'd stick his underbite way out, wear
skin tight jeans and headbands, stomp around on stage riffing like he
was in a hair band, ride those cheesy synthlines, etc. Needless to say,
I wrote the guy off before I was in high school and even figured him
for some sort of idiot savant. By the time I was 20 or so I was a fan
of his music, surely; but not until I saw director Thom Zimny's The
Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town did I realize
that, in his day, Bruce was as cool as anyone, and an all-around
brilliant man of deep artistry.
The bulk of Zimny's film is comprised of archival footage of Bruce and The E Street Band following the worldwide success of their previous album, Born to Run. Overnight, it seemed, Bruce had become a household name. His working class background forever lingering, Bruce saw the opportunity to make something that was not just better than Born to Run, but different. Next came the notebooks, then the songs, then the rehearsals, then the recording. Then more recording. Then more writing. Eventually Bruce and his band had 70+ new songs to choose from, 10 of which ended up on his now-classic Darkness record. Thanks for Zimny's film, we get to see the whole process, mixed up with recent footage of the band reflecting on the Darkness era.
The Promise is one of the 10 best music docs I've ever seen, telling a great story that focuses on a great and brilliant leading man. The movie reminds me quite a bit of Sam Jones' film about Wilco, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, but with a much cooler focus and much cheesier production. Had the producers and director done a better job of mixing the old footage with the new (and not used every cliché doc trick in the book), this would've been a near-perfect movie. Still, though, it's a must-see for fans of rock n' roll, pop culture, songwriting or film in general.
The movie is an amazing document of a brilliant writer, music mind, band leader and thinker who was working in his artistic prime. I still can't say much for the pop star 80s version of Bruce, but damn if the struggling back alley artist of the 70s wasn't as good as they came. This film will stand as the one of the essential pieces to the Art of Bruce.
Read more of my music- and film-related writing at ZeCatalist.com.
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town (2010)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Terrific 90-minute documentary taking a look at Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's attempt to make a follow-up record to their classic "Born to Run" album. The singer and band were riding a huge wave of success when their future was pretty much tossed into the air due to a dispute, which kept them out of the studio. Through interviews with Springsteen and the band, behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsal footage as well as concert footage from the "Born to Run" tour, this documentary really gives one a great idea of what was going on during this period and how the eventual album turned out so well. I really don't see how any Springsteen fan could be disappointed by this documentary because it gives you a great story told by all the original members and it also takes you inside the recording process with some terrific video footage. One of the highlights comes in regards to the drums not sounding correct and we see everyone just getting frustrated because they can't get the correct sound that they're looking for. Another great moment happens when Bruce pulls out "the book" and everyone laughs that the work would be over if he'd just put this book away. With the behind-the-scenes footage we also get to hear alternate takes of some famous tunes including 'Badlands' and 'The Promised Land' and I'm sure fans will enjoy this. With a great documentary already being made on the story of "Born to Run" it's great to see the follow-up album get the same type of treatment.
If you haven't seen this documentary yet, watch it. I've never been a
die-hard Springsteen fan but this is an incredible tale of artistry and
it's hard to imagine anyone who is either a listener or involved in the
creative process not appreciating what they did. It's a story of how
magic comes from balancing visionary and obsession, friendship and
oppression, cooperation and standing your ground.
Springsteen talking about the album in retrospect is lucid and insightful, but the amount of footage they have from the actual recording sessions is incredible.
Inspiring and a must-see for all music-lovers, Springsteen fans or not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
my favorite part of this bruce doc was the part when he and steve van zant are kind of fooling around/working out a part to a song in the studio after everyone else has already left.there's no cocaine,liquor-not even a single beer-or groupies that would've been in any other famous band's scene.while(insert 70s rock star name here) would've been enjoying his downtime relaxing and getting his blah blahed or taking any number of drugs bruce is working on his music-one gets the feeling that's how he unwinds,that's what the man does for fun.another thing i always just assumed was the 3 year gap between "born to run" and "darkness..." was because he was constantly touring.i had no idea about the legal stuff and i know bruce and the e-street's history pretty well...very solid documentary-i wish they had included more of the old footage but all in all-solid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I generally like music documentaries, and I generally like Bruce
Springsteen, but I don't know a lot about his Darkness album.
I still don't.
This is a documentary about nothing. You get a lot of clichés like the legal dispute over control, and the young angsty artist. What you don't get is even a track list of what's on the album, or any more than one complete song. The film closes with a recent performance of the title track, but that's the high point.
You do get some old film of half-serious performances of songs that apparently were cut from the album (perhaps released later?) but beyond that there's very little else to place this album in context. There's not a history of the era. There's not a history of the man or the band. You don't get an aural comparison of the sounds of Born to Run and Darkness -- you're just supposed to take people's word for the difference. You don't get a comparison of this music with punk, or country, or rock, or pop, or even the follow-up albums.
Here's just one aggravating thing, for example. They go on for a long time talking about the drum sound on the album. They apparently wanted just the drum sound, with no sound from the stick hitting it. But there's nothing to help the audience understand why that's good, or what the difference even is, or whether they achieved it.
If I'm being totally fair, this film is a 6/10, but I think the 1970s-era Bruce is a hottie, so the eye-candy makes up the extra point for 7/10.
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