Bruce Springsteen's 'Western Stars' Doc Offers Beautiful Music and Corny Cowboy Schmaltz

Directed by Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 13, 2019

YouTube has totally oversaturated the concert film genre by flooding the internet with countless free, professionally shot shows, but with Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen attempts to inject new life into the form by interspersing intimate performances with cinematic footage and meditative voiceovers.
As a straight-up concert film, it works wonderfully. The Boss is backed by a full band plus a 30-piece orchestra in the cavernous hayloft of his New Jersey barn, which is decorated with twinkle lights and has a small audience seated at tables.
The ensemble play songs from the 69-year-old's most recent album, Western Stars, and there aren't any classic cuts for casual fans. (There's no "Born in the U.S.A." or "Born to Run," although there is a well-known cover tune right at the end.) The mix is beautiful, Springsteen's craggy voice sounds fantastic, and the orchestra is impossibly lush. With a decent movie theatre sound system, it's gorgeous.
The between-song interstitials aren't quite as illuminating, as scratchy retro B-roll is intercut with corny slo-mo footage of Bruce wandering around a ranch with a horse and a cowboy hat. He offers anecdotes about the songs, but these mostly amount to cloying lessons about the importance of love and the destructive toll of lies and hate. He explains the meaning of some of the lyrics, but does the audience really need a long spiel about how a car is a metaphor for movement?
Bruce speaks in broad strokes, alluding to his own character flaws but not offering any concrete examples to latch onto. A touching story about how he met his wife (and band mate) Patti Scialfa stands out because it's the only time he offers any memorable details about his life.
Bruce comes across like a rugged, romantic cowboy — so yes, he's as cool as ever, but it feels like he's playing a character rather than opening up. Western Stars is deeply invested in The Myth of Bruce Springsteen, as though he's invited the audience into his barn, but not into his heart.
(Warner Bros.)

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