The Springsteen community is a proud one. We are proud that we sell each other tickets at face value, we are proud of our charity work, we are proud of our friendships and our connections to each other. It's not like we're some kind of monolithic cult but on the whole, we're a pretty good bunch.
So it's not surprising that I went into the Springsteen & I screening somewhat concerned for how my tribe (at least on alternate Tuesdays) was going to look through someone else's eyes. I had already read an interview with director Baillie Walsh where he said he wasn't at all familiar with Bruce's music. I only knew one person who had sent something in for the movie, and I am acquainted with a pretty large group of Springsteen fans. So I went into this slightly guarded.
It's tough to evaluate this movie because everyone is going to react to it on such an individual level, depending on how much you resonate with the stories of the people who were chosen to represent us -- because that is exactly what this film is purporting to do. I found that I liked a lot of the stories and the people and there were definitely a handful I would love to sit (or stand) next to at a show and chat with: there's a young Asian woman who works as a truck driver because she couldn't get a job after she graduated college; there's a woman in a small town in Denmark who talked about how she wasn't the kind of fan who knew Bruce's shoe size but didn't miss a concert in her country; I was touched by the couple who had never been able to afford to see Bruce live, dancing in their kitchen as "Radio Nowhere" played on a boom box.
There are great moments in there, things that you as a fan might know about, like the guy dressed as Elvis who came onstage in Philadelphia, or the kid in Canada who had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend and brought a sign reading HI BRUCE I JUST GOT DUMPED PLAY I'M GOIN' DOWN, which resulted in some advice and a hug, or the guy who busked with Bruce in Copenhagen in 1988.
But here is where I get defensive. There were moments that I think did not make the fans look their best and I didn't think that was fair. There was laughter at moments I am not sure should have been laughed at, that if I was the person being laughed at I would have been hurt by. I don't think the director went in with any kind of agenda at all and believe him to have been totally sincere. But I felt kind of betrayed when the Danish woman's lovely speech about how she is touched by Bruce's love for his wife and how she loves "Red Headed Woman" as an example of that, was then juxtaposed with the most explicit version possible of the "Cunnilingus Intro" for "Red Headed Woman" on the Joad tour. I didn't think that was right or fair to do that to her, but it got a big laugh from a lot of the audience. There were a few other stories in the movie where I didn't think the people were portrayed with the dignity I would have liked to have seen given to them; on the other hand, several of them were at the screening and when interviewed, were ecstatic and incredibly excited to be part of it. So, again, some of it is perception, and what you resonate with.
On the other hand, as someone who deeply, truly believes that no one can possibly make fun of my Springsteen fandom because I make fun of myself first, there is certainly room for laughter here. The woman whose three words were "Poet. Comfort. Gluteus Maximus." or the long-suffering Springsteen spouse who, when asked if he had anything to say to Bruce, said, "Make your shows shorter." (And yes, I very much appreciated that after all the years of advice to male fans about how to handle your wives, that the spouse-in-agony here was the husband.)
After the premiere in New York Thursday night, the director took questions from the audience, and during the Q&A noted that because he wasn't a fan, he didn't come to the project with preconceived notions. So he didn't have favorite songs or moments and he let the fans show him where to go: "The fans informed me," said Walsh. Out of 2000 submissions, these were the ones he chose; another group would have informed him in another direction and it probably would have been another, very different movie. And the truth is, this was an impossible task and there was no way he could have made a film that was truly representative of every single one of us.
So for me, this is not the film that I can send to my father and say, "Here, see why I was running around Europe the past two summers." This is not a film that I would ask friends who are music fans but not fans of Bruce to watch as representative of what I see as this community. But it is highly likely that there are those who will see it and feel completely the opposite; they will see themselves or their friends and love every single second of it. Your mileage, as they say, will vary.
The director noted that Bruce had seen the film, and had not asked for any changes or omissions; he had no control over the final product, and that the organization did everything they could to help the film and were behind it 100%. There is some pro-shot footage (both things you know, like Live In New York City, and things you don't, like the advice to the lovelorn in Hamilton, Ontario) but that the objective was that this would be a film by the fans and so they only used pro-shot when there wasn't fan-shot available.
It is a film by us; it is a film for us; but it does not, I believe, achieve the goal of being about all of us, and all that we are.
Caryn Rose is a novelist, photographer, long-time Springsteen fan, and author of the book Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe. Guest writers' views don't necessarily reflect those of Greasy Lake's staff.