The checkered history of rock music documentaries is full of films about bands on stage (think “Woodstock,””No Nukes”), but there are precious few docus about bands in the studio (think “Let It Be” or, better yet, don’t). For that reason alone, the studio-set “Bruce Springsteen: Blood Brothers” is a worthy addition to the rock-film canon. Although it captures arguably rock’s best artist not necessarily at his best, the docu should have appeal beyond just his multimillion-member cult following.
This addition to the Disney Channel’s series of profiles of classic rockers (past shows have looked at Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and Elton John) follows Springsteen over eight days early last year when he recorded four tracks for his greatest hits collection. The underlying theme, as tipped in the docu’s title, is the reunion of his E Street Band for their first recording since “Tunnel of Love” in 1987.
The rock star’s warmth, me-and-the-guys camaraderie and easygoing humor may come as a surprise given the sullenness of his new “The Ghost of Tom Joad” album and the sober earnestness of his recent interviews. The Springsteen on display here clearly relishes the reunion.
Springsteen gathered the band, former member Steve Van Zandt and longtime production colleagues Chuck Plotkin, Toby Scott and Bob Clearmountain at New York’s Hit Factory for this session, on just three days’ notice.
In what is either evidence of deep connection between these veteran associates or skillful editing by filmmaker Ernie Fritz, the band seems to get back into synch almost instantly.
Fritz is given unprecedented access, which nets a fan’s ideal look at Springsteen’s album-making process — multiple takes, posing for band photos, mixing tracks, selecting songs, shooting the video. The filmmaker does an admirable job of being both omnipresent and inconspicuous.
Because the docu’s exec producers — Jon Landau and Barbara Carr — are also his managers, it’s reasonable to assume any hard feelings or awkward moments that may have accompanied this recording session were removed.
This is an insider’s view, where never is heard a discouraging word. But, for anyone who’s been a Springsteen fan for the past couple of decades, it’s also easy to imagine he really is as appealing as he is shown to be here.
A riff running through the film is his efforts to get the song “Blood Brothers” just right. It’s the first song they cut, and Springsteen goes back to it several times during the eight-day recording session, providing viewers a fascinating glimpse at how a song can change dramatically over various takes.
When the group finally nails the right take on “Blood Brothers” on the final effort, Springsteen yelps out, “Peace, love, soul” like a giddy schoolboy and, while listening to the playback, he air drums like the rest of us slobs. It’s utterly winning.
“Blood Brothers” is full of such moments. And it’s all the more special given that, for all the attention heaped on him over the years, Springsteen has always kept this part of his life out of view. Whatever the reason for letting us in now, Springsteen fans have one more reason to admire him. ]