The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town (2010) dir. Thom Zimny
By Alan Bacchus
I confess I’m not really a Bruce Springsteen fan, I don’t own any of his albums, nor am I a musician, yet I was strangely excited by this film. The fact is The Promise is a compelling film about an artist’s creative process. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s impossible not to admire and find fascinating watching one of rock music’s great artists create one of its great albums - 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Director Thom Zimny doesn’t waste time with the introductions jumping in immediately describing the period of time before Bruce’s breakout third album Born to Run and this his fourth album Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was a three year period, which Springsteen admits could have been career suicide. After all, back in the day, a three year gap between albums from an emerging artist was almost unheard of. This gap stemmed from a creative dispute between Bruce and his former Manager over the publishing rights to his songs. After this rather dry business affairs stuff out of the way, we get into the good stuff, that is the arduous process of creating art.
Zinny has access to a goldmine of unseen archival footage intimately shot inside the studio where the album was made. Interviews with Bruce and the band in the present, as well their record producer Jon Landau (not the same guy who produced Titanic and Avatar), are intercut with the verite footage with the band in 1977 which provides a perfect synergy of omniscient perspective and in-the-moment emotions.
We get to see Bruce as a demanding perfectionist crafting his songs and his album with the precision of a renaissance sculptor. For a non-musician it’s truly enlightening to see how much attention is paid to seemingly minutes details. For example, Bruce admits to spending three weeks with Max Weinberg, the drummer, working on the tone of the drum sound. Same with the ambient live feeling he wanted to get from the album - a different type of feeling than his previous wall of sound he created for ’Born to Run’.
So its not really strange that I would love a film about an artist I’m not a fan of. The truth is, what really turns my crank are films about great artists and the creative process and The Promise does this as good any other films about this subject.