The lines between documentary and electronic press kit get a little blurry in “Tom Petty: Going Home,” but the show remains a superbly produced and edited spec that will act nicely as a symbiotic horse to Petty’s recently released “Greatest Hits” carriage.
Since Petty’s career has spanned more than 20 years — 10 albums with his band, the Heartbreakers, one triple-platinum solo record and two albums as a member of the Traveling Wilburys — there is much ground to cover. Spec manages to encompass 36 songs — from an early ’72 performance to his latest release, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”– and to document some of the events that have influenced his craft.
In its coverage of events in the life of the Florida native, everything is portrayed to show Petty as the justifiable hero, from conflicts with his record company over the recommended retail price of his record to his house burning, which provided the inspiration for his monster hit “I Won’t Back Down.”
However, darker incidents are often given just a sentence when a deeper insight is required: How Petty smashed his hand out of “frustration” while recording “Southern Accents,” and how he filed for bankruptcy and was sued by his label.
All band members, including former bass player Ron Blair, are interviewed as they recount anecdotes and compliment each other, while non-members are shown on vid format. Was this intended as a separation device or did they run out of money?
Without a doubt, the stars of this spec are the direction (Jonathan K. Bendis) and editing (Bendis and Charlie Singer). As “American Girl” starts, Petty is shown and heard talking with cohort Mike Campbell as they remix a rough version in the studio; it then segues into a live version and back-and-forth, all while keeping the song in sync. They utilize this technique throughout, but refrain from gratuitous use, adding a different dimension to what could have been a stoic presentation of the music.
The latter half clarifies the story of the formation of the Traveling Wilburys, accompanied by never-before-seen footage of the late Roy Orbison in action with the supergroup at the studio. There’s an eerie feel to watching the Texas Tenor, not too long before his death, looking so vulnerable and seemingly unaware of the camera. The piece isn’t without humor: George Harrison refers to the Beatles as “my old group.”
Petty is best known for his music, of course, and that alone is enough reason to watch, but filmmaker Bendis was given a chance to delve deeper into a talented soul. Instead, he opted to just skim the surface.