Most summertime traditions involve beach trips and barbecues. But for Langhorne’s Joe Amodei, releasing documentaries to the masses is becoming something of a warm weather tradition.
In August 2018, Amodei and longtime friend Mike Meister, of Newtown, had their names proudly attached to the film The Coolest Guy Movie Ever – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the 1963 WWII adventure film The Great Escape, for which the duo served as two of the executive producers. The Coolest Guy Movie Ever was released on DVD through Amodei’s distribution company Virgil Films, and on all digital platforms such as iTunes and Amazon.
Currently, Amodei is gearing up to do it all again. On Aug. 13, the biography documentary Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? will be unveiled on all of the same platforms, marking Amodei’s first dive into the world of producing something from the very beginning.
The 90-minute film, which has been five years in the making, uncovers a little-known side to the musician, singer and songwriter, best known for his staple spot in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band before his untimely passing in 2011 at the age of 69.
“Some people would say this is a love letter. Everybody in their life has some negative things. We don’t deal with them,” Amodei explained. “We really focus on the spiritual side, or his quest to find spirituality in his life. In the end, he does. He actually finds what he’s looking for and he becomes very content with himself on stage as a member of the E Street Band and also off stage.”
Amodei got involved with the project five years ago after viewing a 60-minute version that premiered at the Garden State Film Festival. Directed by Nick Mead, it chronicled Clemons’ 2005 spiritual voyage across China, where he went to discover life’s deeper meaning and his true self. Intrigued, Amodei met with Mead and Clemons after the event, asking if they had more footage – a 90-minute feature would be much easier to sell.
Contracts were signed and all parties were on board. However, midway through the film’s completion, Clemons passed away unexpectedly from a stroke. The project went into a “legal hole” as Amodei and Mead struggled to figure out how to move forward and raise enough funds to pay for the rest of it.
Last year, thanks to money put forward by Virgil Films, an Indiegogo campaign and generous contributions from “angel” donors Meister and Brian Samelson, Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? was finally finished. To date, it has played at events such as the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation, and the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick.
The documentary shows Clemons’ soulful mission in China and how it changed him, while highlighting his childhood and rise to fame as a member of the E Street Band.
“It’s filled with a lot of anecdotes from Clarence’s family and friends that talk about him in a very reverent way and really deal with the spiritual aspect of him, his belief system. It was all centered around kindness, being good to other people, not thinking that you are above other people even though you’re standing on stage and 60,000 people are screaming your name,” Amodei said. “That wasn’t the reality of his life. The reality was when he left the stage.”
Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? features interviews with the musician’s nephew Jake Clemons; fellow E Street Band member Nils Lofgren, who provided the track “I Miss You C” for the film’s end credits; and former President Bill Clinton.
“He [Clinton] just reminisced about seeing Clarence and the instant friendship. He kind of described Clarence as one of those friends that you don’t see for a year or two, but then when you see him, it’s like you saw him yesterday,” Amodei said.
According to Amodei, Springsteen and the E Street Band are shown sparingly in the documentary, something that was done on purpose.
“Clarence was a complicated yet very spiritual person that really wanted to be recognized not only as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s band, but outside of that as well,” he said. “When I first met Clarence that night, one of the very first things that he said to me was, ‘You’re not doing this because you want to meet Bruce Springsteen.’ I wanted to answer him as honestly as possible. I wouldn’t mind meeting Bruce Springsteen. There’s about 20 million people that feel exactly the same way as I do. But that’s not why I’m doing this.”
On Friday, Aug. 16, Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? will be shown at the Newtown Theatre, 120 N. State St., at 7:30 p.m. Amodei and backstreets.com writer Shawn Poole, who served as the main researcher on the film, will be in attendance for a Q&A. Details are available at thenewtowntheatre.com/events/2019/8/16/clarence-clemons.
As Amodei works to spread the word about his latest creation, with goals of television or Netflix/Hulu sales, he and Meister are building a small, Bucks County-based production company. Recently, the friends returned from the Cannes film market in France, where a handful of fresh documentary projects were presented to them.
“The film business is risky right now, but it also has its rewards,” Amodei said. “We’ll see how it goes.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org