Combustible Celluloid
With: Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimny
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements, alcohol and smoking images, and brief language
Running Time: 83
Date: 10/25/2019

Western Stars (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fitting Pieces

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At age 70, Bruce Springsteen forgoes his usual invigorating concert experience for this intimate, reflective live show; it's achingly beautiful, tender and personal, with strains of regret and hope.

In Western Stars, the legendary recording artist assembles a 30-piece orchestra along with his backing band and backup singers in the century-old barn on his property in northern New Jersey. In front of a small audience, they perform the thirteen songs from Springsteen's 2019 album Western Stars, plus an encore. In-between numbers, Springsteen tells stories of how each song, based in memories, hurt, reflection, and perseverance, came to be.

Making his directorial debut alongside Thom Zimny, Springsteen's Western Stars could rank with the best concert films ever made, with its combination of wonderful songs and touching orchestration, and Springsteen's confessional asides. First, the songs are surprisingly touching; they're great stories of everyday Americans, but rather than the heart-pumping energy of Springsteen's early work, these songs are wistful and quiet, looking back to find a way to look forward. It's possibly one of the finest collections in the singer's career.

In the interludes, Springsteen talks about the songs (he doesn't know why he keeps writing songs about cars), and about the characters in the songs, such as an old cowboy actor, and how they are based on his own feelings and discoveries. He talks about his old destructive behaviors, and how he has worked to put that behind him.

He talks about how everyone has "broken pieces," and how, maybe we might find someone whose broken pieces fits with our own. Western Stars evokes cowboy imagery, certainly, but it's also romantic and philosophical. Bruce seems to understand the human condition, and after spending this time with him, we feel a little bit of peace.

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