Inside Springsteen's 'Darkness' Documentary, Box Set

Springsteen 'really recorded four albums of material for this one album,' says producer Jon Landau. 'When we played the outtakes back for the band, they had forgotten recording them.'

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Of all the remarkable scenes in the new documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge of Town, perhaps the most notable one shows a clearly pissed-off Bruce Springsteen, circa 1977, dressing down his band and production team in the studio. “Everybody shut the fuck up,” he shouts. “I’m sick of this fucking arguing!”

“The footage is so great because the cameraman is being completely ignored,” says director Thom Zimny of the film, which documents the making of Springsteen’s seminal album Darkness On The Edge of Town. (The film debuted last night at the Toronto Film Festival, and will also be included in a massive six-disc Darkness box set hitting stores November 16th.) “There’s no narration, and you literally see the camera get out of the way of the band at times. The biggest treat, however, is seeing the working relationship between Bruce, the band and [producer] Jon Landau.”

Gallery: Vintage Bruce Springsteen Photos

The archival footage — which was shot by filmmaker Barry Reebo — sat in a vault unseen by virtually anybody for decades. It’s an ultra-rare look into the recording of a key album from a major artist. “In it you see an early, early, early sketch of ‘The Promised Land,’” says Zimny, explaining the special appeal for Springsteen fans. “You also see them working on versions of ‘The Promise.’” Other scenes show a shirtless Springsteen leading the E Street Band through songs at his house in New Jersey, and exhausted band members placing actual bets over how long Bruce was going to make them record that day. “A key early direction I got from Bruce was to not have a lot of people talking about the footage,” says Zimny. “We let things play out, so you see the development and writing style in the creative process.”

Also included in the box set: a three-hour concert filmed December 8th 1978 at the Summit Arena in Houston. “The footage comes from the in-house screens at the arena,” says Jon Landau, Springsteen's longtime producer and manager, and a onetime critic for Rolling Stone. “It is a true bootleg in that sense. We had a variety of shows that we were considering releasing from the Darkness tour. Some had good sound, but the picture wasn’t so good. Some the picture was good and the sound was primitive. Considering the various options, the Houston show worked on the most levels. The sound is raw, but good in deliverance. The picture has been enhanced as much as modern technology allows. It’s an extremely powerful show. It has an incredible ‘Streets of Fire’ and an a great ‘Backstreets.’”

Beyond a remastered version of the original Darkness on the Edge of Town album, the box set includes twenty-one outtakes. “He really recorded four albums of material for this one album,” says Landau. “When we played them back for the band, they were all shocked because they had forgotten recording them. A lot of these things were cut in five minutes, and we quickly decided they weren’t going to make the album.” Springsteen recently returned to the studio the complete some of the songs. “In each case Bruce did what felt necessary to realize the song,” Landau explains. “It varied from song to song. People aren’t going to sit there and say ‘Oh, I can tell what he did here.’ It’s not like that.”

To cap off the project, Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band who played on Darkness (with Charlie Giordano subbing for the late Danny Federici on organ) played the entire LP straight through to an empty Paramount Theater in Asbury Park last December. “We filmed the band playing the album straight through a number of times on the 2009 tour,” says Landau. “In the end we decided to go with this more austere presentation — without the audience — which best captures the starkness of the original album.”

After spending over three years on this project, Landau is unsure whether or not other Springsteen albums will get the same treatment. “If we do decide to do that, frankly, we don’t have the equivalent of Barry’s footage,” he says. “We don’t have it on The River, and we have nothing on Nebraska. We just couldn’t do this type of documentary. It would have to be a different approach. I’m sure will be on the table, but this was an enormous amount of work and it’s too soon to be worried about what comes next.”

More:
'Darkness' Reissue To Include Unheard Springsteen Tunes
Dave Marsh's 1978 review of Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen's Rolling Stone Artist Page