Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N’ Roll

April 29, 2019

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

...riveting and colourful...

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N’ Roll

Mark Demetrius
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Director: Tom Jones

Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny

Distributor: Trafalgar Releasing
Released: May 22, 2019
Running Time: 88 minutes
Worth: $16.00

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…riveting and colourful…

Narrated by Big Joe Henry, and beautifully shot, this is – until about the two-thirds mark – a wonderfully interesting documentary.

Asbury Park was of course the home town of Bruce Springsteen – as name-checked in his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park N.J. – and both The Boss and Steve Van Zandt feature prominently in the interviews here. There are terrific archival photos from the town’s past, stretching back to the nineteenth century, but the main attraction is a motherlode of footage from the 1960s and early ‘70s, when the unsegregated and supposedly ‘sinful’ West side of Asbury Park was music central in New Jersey. (73 clubs, bars and ballrooms in a town of just one square mile!) The Stones, The Doors, Vanilla Fudge, black rock’n’rollers and blues greats… Everybody played there – but also in The Upstage Club over on the East side, with its uniquely literal wall of sound in which the massive speakers were actually built into the walls.

But then – on the 4th of July 1970 – came a (quite understandable) race riot: Molotov cocktails, stores burning… The State troopers shut it all down, urban blight and corruption followed, and the town went into freefall with its spirit broken.

After about an hour, the film degenerates into corny padding, bland MTV-doco-style spin and the kind of cliched ‘worthiness’ you would find in a poorly written community service ad. It gets bogged down in singing the praises of a music school for kids, and shows just how dull and boring the ‘redemption’ part of the titular three Rs can be. But everything beforehand is so riveting and colourful that this is not a fatal flaw.

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