At the end of July, a video surfaced online of the music video of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”, but not the iconic version directed by Brian DePalma where Courtney Cox makes her famous appearance at the end dancing with the Boss. This one is a somewhat blurry, copy-of-a-copy duplicated-tape version with Springsteen and Clarence Clemons on a soundstage, literally dancing in the dark.
So what IS this footage, where was it shot, and why has it never been seen before? Legend told of a first version of the song shot before the DePalma version, but no consensus has ever been reached on what happened.
Now, THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO has uncovered the true story of this first attempt to shoot the “Dancing in the Dark” video, straight from the two GAMV luminaries who helmed the original shoot: director of photography Daniel Pearl and video director Jeff Stein.
An award-winning cinematographer whose career spans nearly forty years, Daniel Pearl should be heralded as the MVP of the Golden Age of Music Video. Having acted as director of photography on a multitude of legendary music videos – everything from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” – Pearl has always given music videos and commercials their cinematic due by treating each shot with feature film-level attention. Serving as cinematographer on the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Pearl has made all his music video projects, big budget or small, sparkle and shine in ways only the most gifted eye could.
“What happened was this,” Pearl explained about the first “Dancing” shoot. “I’d never worked with Jeff before, but Jeff is a New Yorker, and a producer named John Diaz put us together. Jeff’s idea was that ‘Dancing in the Dark’ was Bruce Springsteen in a completely dark space — black floor, black walls, black ceiling, stage as well. We’re at Kaufman Astoria Studios. Bruce Springsteen in a room in the dark. And I went, ‘Well, that isn’t really much of a concept,’ but he goes, “Oh no, it will be cool. Don’t worry about it, it’d be cool.’”
“Now for Bruce, this was the first single he’s releasing after Nebraska, which was not that big of a hit for him, so, Bruce is very nervous,” Pearl continued. “We’re all on set now and Bruce is really pumped. I mean, he’s been working out, and he has a little bit of stubble. Now, I would take a look at people when they first show up. I’ll say hello, and I take a quick look at their face to see, if I know them, if anything is changed – I’m seeing how to light them. I’m take a look at their face and where they part their hair — I mean, those all things that matter to me when I do the lighting. So anyhow, he’s got serious sideburns. Big sideburns, he’s pumped, rippling muscles in his arms, good muscle definition, he’s wearing a wife beater sleeveless shirt, sharkskin pants, and black pointy-toe shoes and basically, that’s the New Jersey, sort-of early ‘60s thing going on, right? But very manly, right? So I lit him very hard – hard edge lights for his rippling muscles, and just really chiseled him with light. He comes out and he stands there and he goes, ‘I don’t know. I think you should get like a big silk [lighting filter] out here and just put a big light through the silk, and silk over the camera, the big silk, you put a big light through it and I go, ‘That’s how we light Stevie Nicks.’ I said, ‘You’re not a p*ssy, you’re quite the opposite. You’re super manly here. I can’t light you like I would light a woman.’ And he said, ‘But that’s what I want.’ And Jeff Stein is there, and said, ‘Just try it once doing it Daniel’s way, and if you don’t like it, we’ll change it.’”
“So we shoot [a few takes], right? Then Bruce goes to the green room, and never returns. Bruce leaves. He just disappears. Doesn’t say a word to anybody, and he’s just out the door, gone. I’m like, ‘Oh, f*ck.’ I’m thinking to myself ‘Oh, my God. Am I, like, responsible for this falling apart?’ John Diaz says to me, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not on you, blah blah blah.’” But Pearl blamed himself and his comments for Springsteen’s quick departure.
Director Jeff Stein, a friend of Springsteen’s to this day, said he was brought in to direct this video, but immediately had misgivings about shooting Bruce in anything other than a concert setting. Then, when the concept of Springsteen and Clarence Clemons in an all-black background setting was established, Stein wanted to try shooting the video all in one take. Reluctant to further discuss the details of the shoot on the record with me, but acknowledging that Pearl was to blame for the walkout, Stein would only agree to be quoted as saying, “I love Bruce, and I had nothing to do with it [the video]. I usually take the blame, but not for that (laugh).”
The whole experience left Pearl somewhat scarred, resulting in him deflecting any opportunity to work with the Boss again. Pearl then started shooting various projects for commercial and music video director Meiert Avis, and soon, a Springsteen video was the next gig scheduled. Pearl said no. Three or four Springsteen videos came to Avis, and Pearl could not bring himself to say yes to any of them, still feeling guilt from the “Dancing in the Dark” experience.
“So Meiert goes to me, ‘So what am I going to do? I got a Bruce Springsteen job,’” Pearl recalls. “So I said, ‘I’m not going to shoot Springsteen. No, no, no. I told you, I don’t shoot Springsteen. No.’”
Little did Pearl realize that he was destined to cross paths with Springsteen again.
“So then a few years pass, and Meiert hired me to shoot a band called the Rituals and we’re shooting all the view on materials, it’s always like rituals like ancient African rituals, and we’re shooting in this cave and we got this moving camera. There’s lightning-strikes machine, and we’re shooting weddings and all first strange ritualistic behavior. And then when shoot material with this girl in like a ‘30s or ‘40s apartment. Well, we’re shooting the girl and there’s lightning flashing, and they told me we’re going to New Orleans, and there’s going to a street car and a spark when it goes over the joint. And so I’m playing with that in this shoot as well, and there are interior lights coming through the windows.”
“In between takes, I look, and Springsteen comes walking into the studio. So I go, ‘Oh, f*ck. What the f*ck is he doing here?’ I’m thinkin he’s probably coming out to a meeting with Meiert to talk about either what’s he going to be doing in the future, or look at some video Meiert made for him. So I just keep my eye here on the camera, thinking I’ll just stay with the camera and he’ll leave eventually. I won’t to have to deal with this guy. I’m not going to talk to him. So we’re shooting another take and as we finished the take, I get tapped on the shoulder by Springsteen, and he goes, ‘Daniel, the circle becomes complete.’ He says, ‘You were right on how you wanted to light me. I was wrong. This [video you are on right now] is my song. We’re shooting here now, and this is the only way we could get you to do it. I want to apologize because you were right.’ And that turned out to be the video for ‘Human Touch’, which I think, is a great video in a lot of ways.”
Taking a look at the “Dancing in the Dark” footage, as blurry as it is, can give us some insight into what could have been, but watching “Human Touch” shows Pearl’s deft hand in lighting Bruce’s muscled form, giving us a glimpse of what the award-winning cinematographer may have intended to accomplish on that ill-fated video just a few years earlier.
Below, take a look at the three takes of “Dancing in the Dark” and the rehearsal footage, along with the “Human Touch” video. Additionally, the “Dancing in the Dark” video we have come to know and love is included, as well as the “Muppets Tonight” version, and another ill-fated “Dancing” idea – Arthur Baker’s dance remix version.
(You can hear Stein’s voice on the rehearsal footage below. At the end he makes a comment about a final shot with Springsteen and a policeman, a concept we know now did not come to fruition on film, but maybe part of another video treatment that didn’t make it onto the screen.)
BONUS VIDEO: Peter Wolf “Lights Out”.
Does anyone else find it interesting that this song, which came out the same year, has the phrase “Dancing in the Dark” in the lyrics AND it’s shot in near darkness as well?