4-hour Tom Petty documentary a fan’s ‘Dream’
By Jim Farber
New York Daily News — Monday, October 29, 2007
‘RUNNING DOWN A DREAM’ | Tonight at 7, Sundance | ★★★★☆
Telling a story right takes time.
Director Peter Bogdanovich obviously believes this because he takes no less than four hours to relay the musical rise – and rise, and rise – of Tom Petty in “Running Down a Dream,” which debuts tonight at 7 on the Sundance Channel. The length may seem better suited to a Ken Burns epic, if not “War and Peace,” but believe me, there’s barely a wasted minute.
It helps if you’re a Tom Petty fan, but even if you’re not, you’ll appreciate the tension, history and inspiration captured by a tale so finely told.
Covering nearly 40 years of musical upheaval, “Dream” finds Petty improbably navigating every pop sea change that comes along. We follow him from his days as a hippie kid (in his first band, Mudcrutch) to his period passing as a “new wave” star in the late ’70s, to his repurposing as a neoclassic rocker with the breakthrough “Damn the Torpedoes” album, to his canny transformation into an MTV video star and, finally, to his current role as elder statesman.
That last change took particular savvy: Petty networked himself into a near peer to rock’s Mount Rushmore set, mainly through his toil with George Harrison and Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys.
Along the way, the program offers tales of corporate chicanery, legal showdowns and a long string of musical mutinies, plus personal stuff ranging from divorce and child abuse to drug addiction and even arson.
Gossip fans may carp that there’s less of this sort of thing than you might expect, but that’s central to what makes “Dream” such a godsend for music lovers. Instead of running through the usual “Behind the Music” clichés of recreational abuse and ego battles, “Dream” mainly stays with the music. It’s hard to recall a program that provides such sustained and generous insight into the creation of songs and a sound. Even better, Bogdanovich found vintage footage to illustrate every phase of the band, dating back to Petty’s nascent days.
In the interview segments, we hear about the battles between, say, drummer Stan Lynch and Petty, with a specificity usually reserved for a book. We also see, and hear, how Petty changed his style to suit not just his muse but the times.
In some moments, Petty’s ruthless side pokes through. In more of them, his defiance does. But ultimately, “Dream” offers less a personal profile than a salute to a musical catalogue that deserves the deep focus.