‘Springsteen & I’ – Film Review
There have been a host of strong rock documentaries making their way into theaters recently. This past summer has seen the release of ‘20 Feet From Stardom,’ about professional backup singers, and ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me,’ about the cult power-pop band of the early-’70s. And now we can add ‘Springsteen & I’ to the list.
The documentary, directed by Baillie Walsh and produced by Ridley Scott, is comprised almost entirely of homemade videos of fans from all over the world talking about their love of Bruce Springsteen. In between are performance clips, ranging from camera-phone videos to the in-house footage from recent tours, which come directly from Springsteen’s people.
An inherent problem in this approach to filmmaking is that too often the people who contribute are often willing to do and say anything in order to see themselves onscreen portrayed as the world’s biggest fans. Anybody who’s ever cringed at watching a person try to get Springsteen to pull their child onstage during the nightly performance of ‘Waiting on a Sunny Day’ will understand this dilemma.
And yet, despite much of what you see in the above trailer, Walsh succeeds at getting as good a cross-section of fans as possible. Yes, there are plenty of obsessives, like women with stereotypically thick Noo Joisey accents and a guy who dresses as Elvis Presley to get his 15 minutes of fame (although to be fair, they provide some of the movie’s funniest moments). But it’s the other stories — a young woman with an MBA working as a truck driver, a British couple that gets upgraded from the top of Madison Square Garden to the front row, a Copenhagen busker who convinces Springsteen to join him — that show how the Boss’ music cuts across so many barriers.
Walsh also throws a handful of curveballs into the mix. One British couple take the opposite approach and tell their story from the point of view of the husband, who doesn’t like Springsteen but has been dragged across Europe by his wife. A Polish man talks about hearing ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ and dreaming of freedom while his country was still under Soviet domination, not realizing the true meaning of the song. Another fan gets choked up when he tries to put into words how much Springsteen songs have meant to him.
With so many stories to tell, any semblance of a narrative arc could easily get lost. But the filmmaker deftly counter this by asking contributors to define Springsteen in three words, which are interspersed throughout the movie, giving a bit of continuity throughout.
The movie concludes with about 30 minutes of Springsteen’s 2012 concert at Hyde Park, where the show was shut down for violating curfew, and an epilogue, where five contributors to the documentary are invited to meet the singer-songwriter after a concert. It seems a bit too self-referential, but it nonetheless ends the movie on a powerful note.
Ultimately, ‘Springsteen and I’ is more about the relationship that fans have with their favorite artists than it is about Springsteen. It just happens to have, as its central character, a musician who places considerable importance on staying connected to his audience. As a love letter from fans, it falls short of ‘Color Me Obsessed,’ Gorman Bechard’s stellar documentary about the influential ’80s punk band the Replacements, but there’s still plenty for fans of any artist to see bits of themselves in the people onscreen.
For complete listings of where ‘Springsteen and I’ is playing, check its website.