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Non-Review Review: Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen is one of the great American storytellers.

Through nothing more than his voice, Springsteen can conjure entire lives into being. Springsteen paints vivid pictures through his music. These are often portraits of masculinity and longing, poems reflecting on the perils and challenges of trying to navigate the modern world. To listen to a Springsteen album is to be transported into another world, one that often lives in the smaller details. There are very few working singer-songwriters who can communicate so clearly and so efficiently.

As such, Western Stars seems like a reasonable prospect. The film is effectively a cinematic companion piece to Springsteen’s latest album, which shares the same name. The appeal of a project like this is very straightforward. It is interesting to see how Springsteen’s storytelling sensibility translates from one medium to another. It’s not an irrational leap. Songwriter Nick Cave cultivated an interesting creative partnership with director John Hillcoat, co-writing The Proposition and Lawless. RZA wrote and directed The Man With the Iron Fists.

The concert film structure of Western Stars seems like a safe bet. After all, Bruce Springsteen is one of the most respected live musicians working in the world, and so a live rendition of his new album is a logical approach to this. However, Western Stars runs into one very serious problem, finding a way to turn Springsteen’s biggest strength into a weakness. Springsteen’s music is so good at telling its own story that any other attempt at narrative feels completely superfluous.

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