DIR: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimmy
Following the Emmy award-winning success of ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ the duo of Thom Zimmy and Bruce Springsteen set off on their next project to create the film Western Stars. The Boss, now 70 years of age, decided not to tour his recent 13-song album of the same name as the concert film, but instead to explore through a cinematic lens the inner workings and inspirations that went on behind the scenes in producing the music of ‘Western Stars’.
The film is set from within Springsteen’s 100-year-old horse barn, turned concert hall, on his and his wife Patti Scialfa’s ranch in New Jersey. The barn itself acts as a spiritual Mecca of inspiration to Springsteen, creating a setting that exudes authenticity. Followed by the meticulous lighting surrounding the exclusively selected patrons of the concert, Joe DeSalvo. the cinematographer and the cameramen, maintains the aura of an intimate venue where the viewer almost feels the need to clap along with the audience as Springsteen transitions from song to song.
Accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra and Scialfa on stage, Springsteen chronologically performs the album and creates this marvellous dichotomy between the eloquence of the orchestral strings and the rustic acoustics of his classic sound. Each song is followed by an interlude in which Springsteen shares his personal memoirs and archival footage from his own life, all in explanation surrounding the song at hand and the reasoning behind it. This formula unfolds for all 13 songs up until the finale where Springsteen indulges both the physical and cinematic audience with an all-time classic.
Thom Zimmy’s directional approach preaches simplicity, which complements the film enormously and reaffirms the purpose in giving this intimate concert to the world through film. The performance and progression of the film is paced like a symphony and Springsteen’s original score takes us subtly from one song to another behind his explanatory monologue. However, the manufactured footage shot for these intermissions between songs, at times, comes across as cliched and repetitive. Such as, the hero shot of Springsteen walking a horse down a stable or driving aimlessly into the sunset in his El Camino. These shots are usually narrated over with rather pious philosophical insights that Springsteen has seemingly come to in his older age. Although these qualities are redeemed in a sense by the nostalgic family footage shared with the audience, giving a greater sense of both Bruce and Patti’s relationship and the events and emotions that predetermined the eventual composing of ‘Western Stars’.
Another disappointing feature Zimmy and Springsteen fail to capture is the raw unadulterated Springsteen and his interactions with the audience and the crew. The film portrays the concert in such a coordinated way that instead of feeling like a member of the audience watching Springsteen live, the viewer is very aware of the fact that they are watching an edited version of Bruce’s performance.
Overall, through Springsteen’s ode to past lovers and metaphorical stuntmen, the complexities of this album are illustrated beautifully through both the stylistic approach Zimmy takes in directing this film and the level of insight Springsteen grants the audience into his life and emotions that inspired this work.
In the end, the film Western Stars comes across as less of an old cowboy’s endeavour into lowbrow philosophical preachings, as it does a homage to the life he led and the love he felt that allowed for this album to come to fruition. A captivating musical experience brought to the screen that expresses both the nature of Bruce Springsteen and the meaning behind his album ‘Western Stars’.
G (see IFCO for details)
Western Stars is released 28th October 2019