The music of Bruce Springsteen and its impact on fans come into focus on Springsteen and I, a new documentary hitting theaters on Monday! But does it capture the rock icon's essence or strike the wrong note? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
Directed by: Baillie Walsh
Bruce Springsteen - Himself
Running Time: 124 minutes
There may be many kings of music (Jackson and Presley, to name only two), a multitude of queens (Beyonce, Aretha, Madonna) and more pop princesses than you can even count, but there's only one Boss. There are few musical artists that are as closely associated with America than Bruce Springsteen. The Long Branch, New Jersey has a forty-year old career in which he has racked up over sixty-five million records sold on the way to creating some of the greatest songs in rock history; he has a voice as a songwriter that speaks directly to the working class and has mastered the rare and difficult task of achieving mass commercial success while maintaining a deserved legendary status as an artist.
Springsteen's impact hasn't just been felt in his own country however; in his career the rocker has touched the lives of people regardless of the borders they live within. Like the best in his industry his music has a capacity to speak to people of all origins, meaning that he has die-hard fans across the world. Those fans are the subject of Springsteen and I, a new documentary that is opening worldwide on Monday with Fathom Events handling distribution in the United States.
The film consists of several video testimonials from fans of Springsteen across the world. The clips vary in style and length from webcam footage and cell phone video to more professional-looking handheld cameras, but all of them share one thing in common that tie the narrative together; discussion and thoughts on how personal experiences with Springsteen in his live shows, listening to his music or even encountering him on the street have deeply impacted their lives. Over 2,000 fans contributed video clips to director Baille Walsh's project, which is intercut with small clips of fans giving three words of what the Boss means to them. Common examples are "Passion," "Poet" and "Hope," though one woman's use of "Gluteus Maximus" is particularly inspired and sincerely funny. We learn the story of a young British woman who, inspired by the famous "Dancing in the Dark" music video, held up a sign reading "I'll be your Courtney Cox" which got her up onstage to dance with the Boss; another involves a man from Scandinavia who attended one of Springsteen's shows and found himself bonding with the guy standing next to him when, during "Blood Brothers," the other man put his arm around the fan which found him moved to tears. This narrative continues through people young and old, and sometimes both; one of the early clips features a die-hard Springsteen fanatic who has a collection of memorabilia spread out on a table and has taught her young son to be a fan as well. That son shares his own memorable moment; a photo of Springsteen shaking hands with him through the window of a car after a show.
In crafting Springsteen and I Walsh (who had Ridley Scott on board as executive producer) is not trying to tell the story of the man himself. This is not a biographical story and there is no insight, new or old, into Springsteen's youth, his musical influences, his early days in the music business or any other point in his life. Springsteen himself is seen entirely in footage--some fan-shot, some taken from professional sources when fan cameras weren't available--of his concerts or other performances. The focus is instead on the power of his influence on those who have been touched by him in some way. Walsh's fan submission approach is a unique one to feature exclusively and it immediately differentiates that from other musical documentaries. That distinguishing feature is both in the look, where a narrow band of vision provided by an iPhone lens is as common as widescreen, and in the narrative. There is nothing "balanced" about this piece; it paints the Boss as a saint and coming from hardcore fans of his that shouldn't be surprising. The worst thing anyone has to say about him is the husband of a fan who says he wishes Springsteen's concerts wouldn't go on too long.
That is not to say, however, that this is merely a shallow piece of hero worship. Far from it; while Springsteen and I focuses on the Boss, it also works in a much broader capacity. With the varied responses from people across the world, Walsh puts the film together in a way that speaks about the nature of being a fan. Everyone in the story takes away something very different from Springsteen as a fan, because their lives and experiences are entirely different. Some are older fans who found a connection with him when they were young and never stopped; others are young and came to love him through their parents or even on their own through the radio. It speaks to the universal nature of music that Springsteen has been able to affect so many people, and the various testimonials illustrate that well.
It also shines a light into how good Springsteen can be to his fans. There's a young man who, upon being dumped just before going to a Springsteen concert, brings a sign proclaiming such and gets a hug, a shout out and the positive affirmation from the rocker that "I've been dumped plenty of times and they're regretting it now!" There's the street busker who finds himself performing his street routine with the Boss and an Elvis impersonator who got a chance to sing on stage with the man. When you see these kinds of stories it isn't a surprise that his fans are as die-hard as they are. If there is a flaw to the documentary, it is that there is almost no notice given to Springsteen's famous E Street Band, though that may not have been the fault of Walsh; she was dependent on what clips she received, and fans are always less likely to show love for the backup band, even as legendary of a backing band as they are.
In the final moments of Springsteen and I, a young woman reads a letter that she wrote intending to send it to Springsteen but never found a way to do so. In it, she proclaims that his music "is woven into my very being; it has become part of the story of me." This letter, which explains how Springsteen's music speaks to her as the soundtrack of her life, becomes the message statement of the film and is punctuated with a series of thank yous from her and many more, edited together in succession. It makes the love letter aspect complete and puts the final stamp on it with emphasis.
The 411: Director Baillie Walsh may be the director behind Springsteen and I, but the rocker's many fans are the true authors. Walsh edits together video testimonials into a powerful narrative about the impact of music on people's lives and the importance of Bruce Springsteen in that very respect. Charmingly low-fi production values don't detract at all and the film deftly alternates between touching, inspirational and funny, often hitting multiple notes at the same time. While Springsteen fans will obviously get more out of it, this is a documentary that anyone who has any level of music appreciation (and really, isn't that all of us) can love.