“Springsteen & I,” culled from footage submitted by fans, reveals their unique devotion to rocker Bruce Springsteen.
It sounds like the most boring movie ever made, if not the most insufferable. “Springsteen & I” consists almost entirely of footage shot by music fans as they lean into the cameras on their phones and computers to proclaim their love for Bruce Almighty.
The Boss’ camp approved this hosanna, allowing the filmmakers (overseen by big-time producer Ridley Scott) to use key live footage, adding star power while giving the flick a broader draw.
The strange part? The film — as compiled by director Baillie Walsh from more than 2,000 fan submissions — proves far more heartwarming than stomach-churning. It has the specificity, humor and unashamed earnestness of one of Bruce Springsteen’s own songs.
More, “Springsteen & I” offers one long valentine to fandom itself. It isolates the particular thrill of projecting your most exaggerated fantasies onto an object that may, or may not, deserve them. Of course, even the lowest star, or reality show vulgarian, can inspire awe in the besotted. But there’s no denying that, due to his particular character and ambitions, Springsteen inspires in his followers a uniquely elevated kind of delusion.
Many of the fans included here speak of their idol more like a life coach or rabbi than a rock or pop star. They see him as a quintessential “good man” — a rare role for a rock star — assuming an idealized relationship with his wife and kids they have no way of knowing is true.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s part of the privilege and fantasy of being a fan — that leap into wishful thinking that proves self-generating for those who believe.
The power of that star/fan exchange is demonstrated in the most dramatic way when an average-seeming middle-aged man begins describing the encouragement he has drawn from Springsteen songs. At the end of his speech, all the emotion he held at bay in his speech suddenly bursts forth, reducing the man to deep and abiding sobs.
The movie benefits from the current culture’s insistence that every waking moment be documented. When an Elvis impersonator tells a tale of Springsteen pulling him out of the audience to sing with him, there’s actual footage to prove it. Likewise, when a guy talks about a show where he brought a sign explaining that he just got dumped by the love of his life — which inspired the Boss to invite him up from the orchestra for a very public hug — we get to share in the moment.
The fans display a wide range of storytelling talents. Some stumble, others spin their yarns into gold. The range of speakers in the film means to be inclusive, even universal. But one can’t help noticing that almost all come from the U.S. or Europe. Some are young, but far more are middle-aged. And not one is black, hardly a reflection of Springsteen’s actual reach.
At various points, fans talk about the artist’s poetry, melodic skill, musicianship, relationship with his E Street Band, even his famously shaped rump. But far more of the mooning arises from the fans’ feeling that Springsteen has made them become better mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, even lovers.
It’s hero worship in the most extreme sense. But it has an unabashed sincerity to it — something that may raise as many goose bumps in the viewer as Springsteen’s songs do in the devoted.