By Haley Lorenzen
Bruce Springsteen’s directorial debut, “Western Stars,” is a beautifully shot, intimate performance of his titular latest album. Candid narration from Springsteen himself provides a poignant look into the meaning behind each song.
Filmed in a 100-year-old barn on Springsteen’s property in New Jersey, the film captures the sincerity of the album, with the singer flanked by a 30-piece orchestra and his backing band. His wife and bandmate, Patti Scialfa, joins him for a majority of the performance, playing guitar and providing back-up vocals.
Co-directed by Thom Zimny, who also directed the Netflix special “Springsteen on Broadway,” “Western Stars” provides Springsteen fans their only chance to see the album, which was released in June, performed live, as the musician has said he won’t tour to promote it.
The album, Springsteen’s first in five years, isn’t a rehashing of any of his previous work. “Western Stars” is folksy and poetic—with a slight country influence—but still unequivocally Springsteen.
Woven in between each performance of the 83-minute film are shots of the American West, where Springsteen muses on his past, bathed in the light of the California desert. His stories—sometimes personal, sometimes fictional—paint pictures of forgotten cowboys, washed-up stuntmen and lost love.
Dressed in a pair of cowboy points and a worn denim jacket, Springsteen is unabashedly honest in his narration. He drives his vintage car, tends to his horses and ponders his reflection, all while contemplating each song.
“It’s easy to lose yourself or never find yourself. The older you get, the heavier that baggage becomes that you haven’t sorted through, so you run. I’ve done a lot of that kind of running,” Springsteen says at one point.
Along with these introspective vignettes, scenes from home movies are scattered throughout the film, providing an even more personal look into Springsteen’s life. Springsteen and Scialfa’s honeymoon in Yosemite, for example, is shown before the two sing “Moonlight Motel,” the last song on the album.
The final performance of the film, not found on the album, is a soulful, feel-good cover of Glenn Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.” The chemistry between Springsteen, the orchestra and the band is undeniable, with an energy that carries toward the final note of the film.
“Western Stars” is a sincere cinematic journey of some of Springsteen’s most personal work, perfectly fitting for casual and lifelong fans alike.