Rock ‘n roll might be a young person’s game, but Bruce Springsteen shows no signs of slowing down as he hits his 70th birthday, and indeed has exhibited an appetite to expand his creative horizons. So he follows the Netflix special capturing his Broadway show with “Western Stars,” a deeply personal film performing songs from his latest album, which also marks his debut as a director.
Co-director, actually, since Springsteen shares those chores with longtime collaborator Thomas Zimny – with whom he collaborated on “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Springsteen on Broadway” – in an 80-some-odd minute presentation that weds the music to Springsteen’s stage-honed storytelling skills, coupled with gauzy images of him and his wife, Patti Scialfa.
It is, clearly, a valentine for hardcore “Bruuuuuce” fans, but one that does an effective job of both showcasing the material and connecting the songs in a thematic way, supporting an album that Springsteen describes near the outset as a meditation on “the struggle between individual freedom and communal life.”
With its modern-cowboy vibe, some of the ancillary footage looks a bit like an old Marlboro commercial, but the clear desire is to create a cohesive feel that augments the 13 songs – performed, with a full orchestra, in Springsteen’s 100-year-old barn with a minimal number of onlookers.
The experience is undeniably intimate, even through the medium of film. As a nostalgic bonus, Springsteen plays a cover of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which underscores the musical influences at work here, adding to a legacy that hardly needed any further embellishment.
Springsteen has always enjoyed an inordinately strong, near-spiritual bond with his fans, still writing about longing and struggle as a young man, and progressing through life’s stages with both his music and stories.
Yet even by those standards the last 12 months have been bountiful, with his music providing the inspiration for the underappreciated indie film “Blinded by the Light” (a modest box-office attraction), his televised Broadway showcase and now this companion to his 19th studio album.
“Drive fast, fall hard,” Springsteen sings on one of the tracks. For a guy who shows no sign of slowing down and keeps challenging himself almost 45 years after “Born to Run,” that sounds about half right.
“Western Stars” will play as a Fantom Event on Oct. 23 and in select theaters beginning Oct. 25. It’s being released by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia.