Western Stars – The Boss Takes His Storytelling To Film!

When he released his Western Stars album, Bruce Springsteen decided not to tour in support of it. Instead, he made a film that’s part performance, part documentary and part something else.

It is as unique a film as I’ve ever seen – and a joyful experience as Springsteen latest meditation on his life and America unfolds before us.

Written, produced and co-directed (with Thom Zimny) – and with all but one song written and co-arranged by The Boss (he roughed out the orchestral arrangements, playing all the instruments on the demos) – Western Stars is a genuinely unique experience.

Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen – Photo by Rob DeMartin/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Instead of touring, Springsteen set up the 180-year old barn on his Colts Neck, New Jersey property for a one-night concert for a select group of friends and associates – and that barn has great acoustics (you need to see Western Stars in a theater with an ATMOS sound system – it’s quite amazing!).

For this special occasion, Springsteen eschewed the standard intros (‘This next song is about…’) for a series of two-and-three-minute mini-movies over which he talks about the songs, his life, metaphors and so forth.

The honesty he brings to the table is sometimes startling – as when he admits that, for a long time, he believed that if you loved someone, you had to hurt them; or his seeming bafflement when he notes that ‘nineteen albums later and I’m still writing about cars’ (even when he delves into a possible answer to why this is so, he still seems a bit baffled and, perhaps, a bit bemused).

Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen – Photo by Rob DeMartin/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

As for the songs themselves, they are, mostly, beauties – and not all of them are exactly as he recorded them.

On Stones, for example, his wife, legendary session singer/songwriter Patty Scialfi (Google her, please) joins him and, in an accompanying 10-minute making of film, he finds himself thinking that he should have done that on the album (again, his honesty is something to behold).

As he, his band and a thirty-piece orchestra played his songs in beautiful old barn, I got the sense that some of his biggest influences (Bob Dylan aside), had to be The Sir Douglas Quintet and, of all people, Jimmy Webb (see: his sincerely cover of Rhinestone Cowboy in what would have been the encore slot in a regular concert).

At 70, The Boss could be doing a Las Vegas Revue – playing his hits for an astronomical fee and taking things easy.

Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen – Photo by Rob DeMartin/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Instead he’s edging his material into uncharted waters and coming up with unique ways to express himself as an author, playwright, singer/songwriter and, now, filmmaker.

Although I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan – more of and admirer than a fan, actually – I found Western Stars to be a once in a lifetime kind of experience (and again, see it in a theater with an ATMOS sound system!).

I know, it’s a film. I can see it as many times as I want – and get the Blu-ray when it comes out.

I have no doubt that Western Stars will hold up repeated screenings, but that first time you see it. Oh, man!

Final Grade: A+