It’s been the year of The Boss at the cinema, with the transformative power of Bruce Springsteen’s anthems driving the story of not one but two narrative features,‘Blinded by the Light’ and ‘Thunder Road’. The man himself steps into the spotlight with ‘Western Stars’, a hybrid of concert movie and short film anthology backdropped by John Ford landscapes. Even non-Bruce fans won’t feel Boss-tracised by this intimate showcase of the man and his music.
The meat of the film sees the 70-year-old performing his latest album in his own barn.
The building is, he says, ‘like a fine instrument’ – a spiritual place where musical magic seems almost certain to unfold. He has a full orchestra, a band of old collaborators and guitarist (and wife) Patti Scialfa alongside. With cameras swooping across the space, it all feels like a front-row seat at the world’s most exclusive gig.
Sure enough, magic does ensue. But it’s the cutaways between songs that stitch it all together with an emotional thread that charts its subject’s struggles over the decades. He’s a self-effacing host (‘This is my nineteenth album and I’m still writing about cars’) and a candid one, opening up about heartbreaks in mini-movies full of bleached photos, widescreen Americana (he wasn’t kidding about the cars) and philosophical voiceovers. And the songs? They’re like mini-movies in themselves, full of over-the-hill cowboys and sozzled stuntmen. Close your eyes and you could be watching an old western.