FILM CHAT: Does ‘Blinded by the Light’ capture the spirit of Springsteen?
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
It may be struggling to find an audience beyond a base of Springsteen fans, but the new film “Blinded by the Light” has certainly engendered a variety of opinions among that particular group. With that in mind, our own Pete Chianca and Anne Haines
sat down -- virtually, from their home bases in Boston and Bloomington, respectively -- to hash out exactly how well “Blinded” did, both as a standalone film and as a souvenir for Bruce’s devoted fan base.
Both of them took in the “special fan event” showing a few days before the official release -- featuring a short doc centered on the film’s Asbury Park premiere -- so the conversation begins there:
Pete: So Anne, I have to start by asking you what you thought of the special “fan bonus content.” Because frankly I didn’t feel like it was all that special.
Anne: I enjoyed the bonus content, but it would have been more interesting if I hadn’t already seen a ton of video from the premiere and didn’t know so much about how the film got made. If Bruce showing up on the red carpet had been a surprise I would have loved it! So maybe it was for more casual fans... going to a special fan event marketed to big fans.... yeah, I got nuthin’.
I should also say, I was in a theater with maybe five other people. So there wasn’t any sense of a fan community in the room or anything like that.
They had showings in several theaters in and around Indianapolis which might have been an overreach in a city that hasn’t seen a Springsteen show since 2008 - I bet if they’d cut it down to one or two it would have been a bigger crowd and a lot more fun!
What was your crowd like, Pete? Size and enthusiasm wise?
Pete: We probably had about 10 people, but movies are so darn loud now I couldn’t really hear if they were reacting. Ugh, I just sounded about 100 years old.
It definitely wasn’t a party atmosphere, though. And the documentary footage felt pretty slapdash, which I guess is unsurprising since it all just happened a week or so ago. But it’s always fun to get something extra!
Now as far as the movie goes, I’ll preface it by saying I think movies can be entertaining and they can be great. Sometimes they can be both, but not this time -- I really enjoyed it but it had some issues, cinematically.
Anne: I agree, Best Picture is probably not in the cards here, but it was definitely entertaining. More than anything this is a movie that wants to be likable and I feel like it succeeds there.
But, tell me about your cinematic issues. (She says, putting on her best Sigmund Freud face)
(Also this is now a cross-country chat. Hello from Denver!)
Pete: “Colorado rocky mountain hiiiiiigh... I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the skyyyy...” OK, thus ends the singing portion of this conversation.
Anne: Thank god. :)
Pete: Harrumph! As for the movie, though, I thought there were some serious pacing issues -- things happened, and then other things happened, and then he went on a trip where nothing really happened, and then it was over. You might be able to give it points for not sticking to your standard Hollywood screenplay template, but it left me feeling that there should have been more attention to story structure.
That said, the individual vignettes were pretty much all delightful, and I bought right into the Bollywood-style song sequences -- it gave the whole enterprise a fantastical feeling that I thought served it well, since I think that type of feeling is something great music is really capable of bringing out in people.
Anne: I loved the Thunder Road sequence, almost in spite of myself (not a fan of musicals generally). Switching to the acoustic version midstream was a cool effect and emotionally effective, and the daytimer scene was great (plus a refreshing change of musical pace!). But yeah, the passage of time was super unclear to me. I could have used some mile markers. Which happens sometimes when a book gets compressed into a movie.
Also, my #1 advice to anyone going to see the movie: check your cynicism at the door! It’s such a wholesome, innocent (despite the Darkness in the characters’ lives) story and I feel like you kind of have to put yourself in that frame of mind for it to really work.
(Er, my phone capitalized Darkness all by itself there. It’s like it knows me or something.)
Pete: In this case it works either way!
Anne: So my question for you is: Could this movie have worked using music other than Springsteen music?
Pete: It’s a good question -- the first thing my wife said afterwards was that she thought it would have stood fine on its own without the Springsteen music, or at least without it having been THAT prominently featured (complete with swirling lyrics around the characters’ heads). So by that logic any artist who deals with real-life in his or her lyrics could have worked. But it felt to me more like a movie made by Springsteen fans for Springsteen fans, and if it was somebody else’s music (Rod Stewart? That was for [avowed Stewart-hater] Deb Filcman) something would have been lost in the translation. What do you think?
Anne: I’m not sure, honestly. It’d have to be music with a similar theme and similar sweeping romanticism (Western Stars wouldn’t have grabbed Javed the way BITUSA and Darkness did, for sure). I’m not sure if it had to be Bruce but it had to be THIS Bruce, not Nebraska Bruce or, heaven help us, “Reno” Bruce. Javed might come to appreciate that work later, especially as a writer. But the movie requires songs with that balance of darkness & freedom.
Pete: Agreed. Plus they had to literally dance in the streets to them -- try THAT with “Reno.”
I wanted to talk about the actors -- it speaks to the strength of their performances that they overcome the story problems. The movie lives and dies on Viveik Kalra’s performance as Javed, and he nails it with a combination of likeability and vulnerability -- he’s like a Pakistani Daniel Radcliffe. And the father character could have been a complete caricature, but Kulvinder Ghir makes him human and even sympathetic, even if his transformation at the end seemed a bit too pat. Plus, Agent Carter [Hayley Atwell] was in it! I’m a fan.
What’s your take on the performances?
Anne: I pretty much agree. Kalra was born to make big wounded puppy dog eyes and be super earnest. And I adored the girlfriend, whose name I am blanking on - she was simply luminous. [Eliza, played by Nell Williams] They all really dived into their characters.
Pete: One thing I really wanted to ask you -- you’re a poet. Were any of Javed’s poems actually any good? I couldn’t decide whether the early ones were supposed to be terrible, and then they got better after he started listening to Bruce’s lyrics. Or were they supposed to all be good? Or all terrible? Hayley Atwell seemed to like them all ...
Anne: The poems seemed like heartfelt high school poems to me, nothing more, nothing less. I didn’t get any sense of them changing after Javed started listening to Springsteen, and that’s really one of the things that I wondered about. As a writer, I know the Darkness album taught me a LOT about how to write, how to create characters that people could empathize with even if they lived very different lives, and so on - I was a middle-class girl in Indiana, and it amazed me that I could identify so strongly with characters like the ones in “Racing in the Street.” I mean, I had NO interest in cars!
So I would have been really interested in how the music affected Javed as a writer. But, maybe that’s a different movie altogether.
Also, I love this review a lot: https://florencenw6.com/blinded-by-the-light
Pete: For me, in the end, I feel like while the movie wasn’t necessarily life changing, Bruce’s music certainly was, for me, and I’m glad those of us who feel that way have this film to commemorate that fact. I’m happy it exists, and I’m sure I’ll find it on late-night cable someday and watch it again, smiling broadly the whole time. Even if it’s just because it’s nice to have proof that I’m not crazy.
At least not for that reason.
Anne: Ha!! I like that. I also think that Bruce’s music continues to be life-changing as it (and we) evolve - unlike some music that was life-changing when I was 17 or so but hasn’t endured as well. The movie evokes so nicely the specific way that music changes your life at that age.
I had one more thought after seeing it the second time. And that is that, though it seems like a lot of reviews have focused on this being a “Springsteen movie” or at least a movie about the power of music - more than anything it is a coming-of-age story. (Oooooohhhhhh, growin’ up...) And it finally hit me that Bruce’s music, specifically the albums that are best represented in the film (BTR, Darkness, The River, and BITUSA), is kind of about that clash between fantasy and harsh reality that is part of what happens when you come of age. One minute you’re the Magic Rat drivin’ his sleek machine, the next you’re facing the prospect of a shotgun wedding with no flowers and no wedding coat. It’s about that moment in one’s life when you realize that you have to figure out how to live with what happens when dreams don’t come true, and that despite all that, it still ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.
Pete: Perfectly put, and it seems to me sort of what they were trying to get across during Javed’s speech at the end of the movie. Although I think you said it better -- maybe you should write a movie!
Anne: LOL!! That can be my retirement project in ten years or so...