By Gregory Crofton
It seems Tom Petty doesn’t know how to make something that’s not good. So when it came time to make a documentary about his band of thirty years, he asked Peter Bogdanovich to direct it.
Bogdanovich, who hadn’t listened to Petty’s music when he began the project, may be most recently known for a recurring but small role he played as a psychotherapist on THE SOPRANOS. But much more important are his credentials as a Hollywood director who worked alongside Orson Welles and made several classic movies including: THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), PAPER MOON (1973), THE THING CALLED LOVE (1993), and the documentary DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (1971).
I’m not a huge Tom Petty fan and didn’t seek out, or really want to watch, this long documentary film. But on Friday night I loaded up Netflix and saw RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM: TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS sitting there nice and plump with great cover art, and goddammit is it great. Four-hours-plus and honestly not a minute too long.
As Bogdanovich explained in an article for IFC, the film ended up being so lengthy because Petty and Bogdanovich had so much ground to cover and spools of live concert footage to include.
“We talked at one point toward the end about making a shorter version for easier distribution. But Tom and I both felt that here we knocked ourselves both out to make this complete … how could we do that?” Bogdanovich told IFC. “If we could’ve made a shorter version that worked, we would have. And if we make it now, we’ll always be saying, ‘Well, you should see the longer one.'”
The film was finished and released in 2007. So why did this film appear on Netflix at the beginning of May? Wasn’t able to figure out the answer to that question. Maybe Warner Bros. (Petty’s label) decided that having the doc stream on Netflix, which now has a global reach, would sell some records. Whatever the reason, take the plunge when you’re ready. The documentary is broken into two parts, each about two hours long.
You’ll find out why Petty sued his record label in the late 1970s. How he intentionally smashed his hand into a wall and unexpectedly pulverized it. You’ll learn how the Traveling Wilburys formed, and how The Heartbreakers toured extensively with Bob Dylan, and later became Johnny Cash’s band. It really is a fascinating documentary.