It’s always a little nervewracking when the DVD case of a music documentary is emblazoned with a statement, in all caps, that the film you are about to see is not authorized by anyone that the film is supposedly about. Questions as to the accuracy of the content instantaneously arise, and one is left wondering what it was about the film that led its subjects to disavow any involvement with the project. Of course, it’s also possible that the Depeche boys are just a bunch of dicks who don’t care enough/have enough time to watch a sycophantic paean about themselves. Also troubling is the fact that the film does not credit any one person as its director, leaving me to assume that Alec Lindsell, a producer and the editor of Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression, was mainly responsible for helming the piece.
With a glut of archival material at their disposal, the creators of The Dark Progression set about the task of creating a meaningful document concerning the early career of a band that played a large role in popularizing electronic music. Plenty of live footage, music videos, and dumb home movies that the Boys From Essex made over their early career are strung together to good effect. An added benefit to the documentary is the presence of electronic musicians with nothing better to do than barely contain the jealousy they feel towards Depeche Mode. Andy McClusky, founding member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, recounts the incredulity he felt listening to Depeche Mode’s first, admittedly light and playful album Speak & Spell. The album, boasting a perennial club favorite, “Just Can’t Get Enough,” put Depeche Mode on the map, and from here the documentary focuses on their "dark progression" into a harmlessly depressing electronic pop outfit, selling out arenas and inspiring obsession among the misguided youth of the Western Hemisphere.
Interviews with Thomas Dolby, Gary Numan, and various people involved with the production of Depeche Mode’s first few albums reveal odd recording techniques that the band helped pioneer (and stole from Kraftwerk). With the electronic music knowledge and experience of Dolby and Numan, specifically, you would think that The Dark Progression would feature some actual critique and exegesis on what made Depeche Mode so damn successful, but all we get are sheepish ruminations on how both Dolby and Numan’s careers were completely overshadowed by the easily digestible electro-pop that Depeche Mode produced for the masses.
Fans of Depeche Mode will relish the heretofore unseen footage of them palling around all over the world, and some of the insights and tasty tidbits of tour info will satiate the appetites of those enamored with the band. As a person who’s never really seen anything all that special about the band, save for the fact that they wrote an awesome song that Johnny Cash put to good use, I was left feeling a bit flat and unimpressed by the content of Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression.