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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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Non-Review Review: Blinded by the Light

If the type of jukebox musical codified by the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia and Rocketman is to become a fixture of the pop cultural landscape, there are certainly worse ways to approach the template than Blinded by the Light.

Many of the beats and structures of Blinded by the Light will be familiar to audiences. Blinded by the Light is a variety of familiar genres blended together; a nostalgic pop period piece rooted in the late eighties, a coming of age story about an insecure teen, a culture clash dramedy about an immigrant family in turbulent times. On top of all that, it is a loving ode to the music of Bruce Springsteen in particular, and more broadly to the power of musical fandom in the life of a wayward teenager.

“Stay on the streets of this town, and they’ll be carvin’ you up all night.”

Blinded by the Light knows the track relatively well. It hits most of its marks. There are few surprises nestled within the run-time of this life affirming story of a young man treating the music of Bruce Springsteen as a spiritual guide. Indeed, there is even a little clumsiness on display. Blinded by the Light makes a strong thematic argument for the importance of family and friends, particularly those around frustrated teenager Javed. However, those characters tend to drop into and out of the narrative, disappearing for extended periods.

However, Blinded by the Light is elevated by infectious enthusiasm. Blinded by the Light – for better and for worse – captures that teenage intoxication of excitement and interest, with a compelling vulnerability and with all the energy of youth. Blinded by the Light is cringy and silly and goofy, but knowingly so. It doesn’t just capture the awkwardness of teenage fantasy, but embraces it. There is a sense that Blinded by the Light is aware of the embarrassment and the stupidity obscured by teenage enthusiasm, and refuses to look away. There’s something joyous in that.

“In Candy’s room, there are pictures of her heroes on the wall,
but to get to Candy’s room, you gotta walk the darkness of Candy’s hall.”

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