There is something truly unique about the connection between Bruce Springsteen and his fans. Many artists have a loyal fan base that go to multiple shows and sing every word but only Bruce fans convene and are ready for a religious experience. Bruce is their preacher and the show leads them through songs about their lives; the good and the bad, their loves, losses and faith. Many say it seems when he sings that song that means the most to them, it is like they are the only person he is performing for amongst a sea of thousands. Strangers sing, dance and cry together. People of all ages become connected by the bond of music. It is no surprise that hundreds wait in line for hours, sometimes days before a show just to get as close to the stage as possible. For 40 years Bruce has been leading these fans through concerts lasting three hours plus night after night. His shows are a tribal, passionate communion which captures the essence of what it is to live. ‘Springsteen & I’ is a love letter told by all those who fans in their own words.
Using the technique of the fascinating ‘Life In Day’ documentary, director Baillie Walsh and Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free have curated the entire film from archive performances and fan-submitted footage that was collected after making a call for clips of people talking about what Bruce means to them. Without careful management this could have been an irritating film about super fans but having directed music documentaries for INXS and Oasis, Walsh was able to avoid most of the potential pitfalls a film like this could have faced. Of course there is a lot of hero worship but there are also a lot of stories that are not about Bruce and are more about the experiences fans have had in their own lives.
This is not a documentary about Springsteen the man and that is what makes this such a special film. This is a story about people. The Elvis impersonator who was pulled onto the stage to sing ‘All Shook Up’, the female truck driver, the obsessive mother who refuses to let her children listen to anything but Bruce in the car, the busker from Copenhagen who performed with Bruce after meeting him in the street and, of course, one of the many girls that gets to go on stage for ‘Dancing In The Dark’ to recreate that Courtney Cox moment. Amongst a dozen stories the one contributor who stood out more than any other was the devoted husband who suffered his wife’s obsession with Bruce. When asked if there was one thing he could say to Bruce he said he would ask him to play shorter shows. The continuation of his story in the epilogue is one of the most amusing parts of the film.
To the uninitiated this film may be a little too much but with so many powerful performances interspersed between the home videos it would be hard to imagine that they would not enjoy the film even if its evangelism isn’t enough to convert them.
Springsteen & I is honest and emotional. It has the same kind of passion for its subject as Shane Meadows’ recent Stone Roses film ‘Made Of Stone.’ The film itself is a little under 80 minutes and never drags or dwells too long on one story. The main film finished with a brilliant montage of ‘Born To Run’ using performances from the 1970’s right up to present and then came a sensational 40 minutes from the infamous Hard Rock Calling show from 2012 where Sir Paul McCartney joined Bruce and the E Street Band onstage only for the organisers to cut the power. Here the sound is glorious from the beautiful stripped-down version of ‘Thunder Road’ that opened the show that night to ‘Twist and Shout’ at the climax. Many people sat in the cinema around me struggled to resist the urge standing and singing along.
Finally, a short epilogue showed the man himself taking part in a meet and greet with a number of the key contributors to the film. Even in those brief moments Bruce was warm and generous. It was clear why these people are so devoted and grateful to him. In the end, this is a love letter for fans and by fans and on that level is succeeds. If you enjoy music documentaries it is well worth watching but if you are a fan it is essential. For me I knew it had been a success as soon as I left the cinema. I looked across to the train station and for a brief moment I considered hopping down to Cardiff for the concert the following night.
Springsteen & I is out now in UK cinemas.
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