Springsteen’s ‘Promise,’ Scorsese’s ‘Letter to Elia’

There happen to be a couple of terrific documentaries premiering on TV this week that offer insight into the creative process: “A Letter to Elia,” an “American Masters” production on PBS, featuring Martin Scorsese’s love letter to Elia Kazan; and “The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,'” an HBO doc about the signature Bruce Springsteen album.

Variety has already reviewed both projects (and you can find “Elia” here, and “The Promise” here), so I’ll be brief in adding my recommendation to both, with “Elia” airing on Oct. 4 and the Springsteen documentary premiering on Oct. 7.

Promise02 Of course, I grew up watching Kazan’s films mostly on television, while I was a teenager when Springsteen released “Born to Run,” following it up with “Darkness.” Yet I confess to having been relatively ill-informed about the tortured history of that album — which became bogged down in a lawsuit with Springsteen’s producer — as well as the rocker’s practice of writing dozens of songs during its making (many of them potential hits) and then discarding or delaying them because they didn’t fit with the overall tone he was seeking.

By any measure, “Darkness” was a towering work, but as the 95-minute film directed by Thom Zimny drives home, it also laid the foundation for Springsteen’s career that followed — one characterized not just by hit singles but a powerful connection with his audience as a voice on behalf of the disenfranchised and disillusioned.

Fortunately, Zimny has access to a treasure trove of video that was shot during the making of the album, in addition to recent interviews with Springsteen and fellow members of his band. As Rob Nelson accurately stated in his Variety review, the doc “keeps the faith with most anyone who’s interested in the obsessive nature of the artistic process.”

I’d only add to that that unlike a lot of artists who can easily appear self-absorbed, Springsteen’s devotion to detail comes across as justified, if no less obsessive. Or maybe that’s just speaking through the eyes of someone who has attended his concerts and yelled “Bruuuuuuuce” at the top of my lungs.
Throw in the Kazan documentary — which also tacks on remembrances of the director by actors and others who worked with and knew him — and it’s a particularly good week for TV in terms of examining the unique qualities of creative genius.

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