RFF14: Western Stars

Thom Zimny & Bruce Springsteen turn film-concert into a wonderful cinematic experience

The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s voice, I think I was 4: he was singing We Are The World with the supergroup U.S.A. for Africa. I loved the song, but I was too young to consider myself a fan. Also, as a teenager I listened to a couple of his albums, and I loved them, but even then I can’t say I was a fan. Only in 2010, when Thom Zimny’s documentary, The Promise, came out, something changed: finally, I could  see the man behind the songs and I started loving Bruce’s music madly.

Zimny has been so good at revealing his soul to the audience, that’s probably why the two collaborated again on the recent TV movie Springsteen on Broadway and finally on Western Stars, a new documentary inspired by The Boss’ new album of the same name. The film screened this morning at Rome Film Festival and will debut tonight, at Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, with the first Italian  premiere.

Describing it as a film-concert is reductive: it’s a hypnotic meditation in 13 songs, a symphony to Western America, a tale about Bruce’s personal journey, an intimate conversation between an artist and his audience about life, love and how to deal with pain and mistakes.

Western Stars also marks Bruce’s debut as a co-director: after all, no one knows his music better than he does and no one could make us feel it under our skin better than he did in this film.

Bruce decided to put on a magical live performance, featuring a 30-piece orchestra, at his 10-year-old barn on his Colts Neck property in New Jersey. This place is special to him: «it’s filled with the best kind of ghosts and spirits», he explains. All the songs from his new album, that he performs in front of a small audience of friends, are interspersed with fascinating short films, capturing California’s most famous parks, wild horses and Bruce, of course, in some meditative moments. He also provides personal thoughts and memories while explaining the stories behind the songs.


Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen. Credits/ Rob DeMartin


From Tucson Train to Moonlight Motel, it’s hard to pick the most touching performance of the film, because everything is. Right before There Goes My Miracle, a moving duet with his wife Patti Scialfa, Bruce says something about love that we won’t forget: «We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces and something whole emerges.»

Western Stars is the closest experience you can have on how this 70-year-old man from New Jersey makes you feel at his concerts: every time it’s like you had just been invited to your American uncle’s home party, to celebrate his return with some friends (thousands of friends) and no matter what you’re going through, you forget it for at least 3 hours.

In case you didn’t have the privilege to see him live, this is a must-watch: Western Stars translates Bruce’s heart in images.

This film is the sweater you want to put on when you’re cold, the fresh white t-shirt you need when it’s 100° degrees in the summer. In Western Stars Bruce gives the best guidance you can get when you’re struggling with the questions of life:  «Life’s mysteries remain and deepen, its answers unresolved.» he says «So you walk on, through the dark, because that’s where the next morning is.»

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