Under the Darkness of Springsteen

Imagine: Darkness Revisited (BBC1)Midday (TV3)

Pat Stacey

There was something slightly disjointed about Darkness Revisited. It was like listening to a bootleg of a classic album but with several key tracks missing -- and for a good reason.

This was, as presenter Alan Yentob put it, "a special edit -- ie, one with about 40 minutes missing -- of Thom Zimny's documentary The Promise, about the making of Springsteen's classic fourth album Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The full, feature-length film is one of the gems on the mammoth, six-disc package The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (which some of us Bruce fans will be finding in our stockings on Christmas Day -- thank you, Santa!).

Yet even in a severely truncated form, this was an outstanding corrective to those who think Springsteen -- 60 now and, unlike many contemporaries, still turning out bracingly brilliant albums -- begins and ends with Born in the USA (famously misinterpreted by Ronald Reagan as an all-American anthem) and songs about cars and women called Mary.

Darkness, one of Springsteen's stark, edgy masterpieces, grew out of a bitterly unhappy period. Following the breakthrough success of Born to Run, he became embroiled in a lawsuit with his producer/manager Mike Appel, who had total control over his career, that effectively barred him from recording for three years.

"It wasn't a lawsuit about money," said Springsteen, "it was a lawsuit about work and control." When he eventually returned to the studio, he was a wiser, more reflective man.

Springsteen wrote and recorded more than 70 songs during the Darkness sessions, just 10 of which made the finished album. The process, or some of it, was captured here in fascinatingly intimate and evocative black and white footage. Rock and roll filmmaking at its finest.

Just hours before Brian Lenihan delivered his scorched-earth Budget, TV3's supremely smug, all-female gabfest/phone-in Midday was pontificating about how the carnage that was to come might change us.

The actress Mary McEvoy (Biddy in Glenroe) decided it might be "no bad thing" that people were again having to carefully "tot up" how much money they have in their pockets against how much they have to pay for.

Ah, yes; there's nothing like a wistful return to Old Ireland. After all, who really wants not to have to worry themselves sick about where the money to pay the bills might be coming from?

A far better scenario, surely, than the one the ubiquitous (to TV3 anyway) Fiona Looney recalled from the most vulgar period of the Celtic Tiger, when women with more money than brains splashed the cash shamelessly on expensive designer handbags. The intimation here was that such feckless bimbos deserve to get their comeuppance -- and maybe some of them do. But invoking the self-made (and not a little self-regarding) Bill "Penny Apples" Cullen as a hardworking role model to aspire to is hardly the best way of supporting your argument.

If there's one thing more grating than being lectured to by halfwit politicians about how we all have to share the pain, or by preening businesslebrities about how everything will be fine if the young people just get off their arses, it's being lectured to by a gang of well-paid, middle-class media women about how we can rediscover some old-fashioned moral values in this societal wreckage.


Imagine: Darkness Revisited ****

Midday *