“Thanks, Boss” – Western Stars (BFI London Film Festival Review)

Rating:

To say that this is Bruce Springsteen’s directorial debut (co-directed with Thom Zimny) does seem strange, if only because it’s surprising that it has taken this long to get there. The music of Springsteen has always had a cinematic flair to it, as is more than evident by how many films often look to the work of The Boss to lift up a given moment (heck, we had a whole film based around the power of his music just this year in Blinded by the Light). 

For his first effort behind the camera, Springsteen has constructed an accompanying film for his most recent album, the epic orchestra-driven Western Stars. Both a visual companion and a concert movie at the same time, Westerly Stars brings the music to life with a live concert performance of the whole album conducted in his huge old barn in New Jersey, with moments of Springsteen-delivered monologues tying the tracks and performances together. 

Listening to the words of The Boss is always a delight, and here we get both the words and a beautiful performance to witness. Largely discussing the metaphors behind the songs, and his ambitions to create a sound that echoes the past as it charts its narrative of a fading Western movie star, the film provides both a look at Springsteen’s song-writing process and the numerous points of inspiration for the album. These insights into the music may offer too much detail for some, but they more than offer a great example of the type of myth-making quality behind the narratives of Springsteen’s work. We are also offered moments of ‘Boss Philosophy’, with the main man discussing more personal matters such as family, regrets, failures, and setbacks, set against gorgeous vistas of vast deserts and rustic ranches. 

The nuggets of philosophy often prove inspiring and wise, rarely coming across as pretentious, and are sometimes accompanied by some personal home videos that bring us closer to the man behind the music. He talks like a man who has had battles with demons in the past but has finally reached a place where he can talk about and confront those demons with a matter of fact and rather insightful gaze. There is nothing here that is as monumentally moving or as profound as the Netflix special Springsteen on Broadway (also shot by Zimny), but it is more than welcome to spend some time with the man and his music and heed whatever advice he has to offer. 

And boy, what music. Your enjoyment of this film will, of course, rely on your feelings towards Springsteen’s music and his most recent album (FYI, it’s my favourite album of the year so far, so I was pretty hook, line and sinker for this one), but there is no denying the sheer talent on display in both the lyrics and the small orchestra that The Boss has assembled for the performance. There are many moments of goosebump inducing joy as the performances come to life in the wonderful setting of Springsteen’s very own barn. The soaring strings, blazing trumpets and spirited percussions of the epic Western tracks that make up the album work their magic to even greater effect when experienced in a cinema setting, making this an experience that any fan of The Boss would be made to miss. 

Western Stars doesn’t do anything to reinvent the concert movie wheel, and that’s more than ok. What’s on offer here is truly a delight, offering beautiful settings set to the words of Springsteen and his bold, bittersweet music. It’s a rockin’ great time in Bruce’s barn, one that leaves you feeling just that little more inspired and contented than when you first entered the cinema, proving to be as smooth and warming as a shot of mighty fine Tequila. Thanks, Boss. 

Dir: Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen 

Scr: Bruce Springsteen 

Cast: Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa 

Prd: Thom Zimny, Jon Landau, George Travis, Barbara Carr

DOP: Joe Desalvo

Music: Bruce Springsteen

Country: USA

Year: 2019

Run time: 83 mins

Western Stars will be on general release in the UK from October 28th 2019.

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