October 20th, 2020
MOVIE: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S LETTER TO YOU
STARRING: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MAX WEINBERG, STEVE VAN ZANDT, JAKE CLEMONS
DIRECTED BY: THOM ZIMNY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
With the release of his rock documentary Western Stars last year and now Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You, I think Bruce Springsteen might be the greatest therapist I’ve ever had. He’s a legend of music, a poet, somewhat in the vein of Bob Dylan, but in his own rugged, East Coast steel worker way. And his work and his words have carried more weight as he ages. That is what he’s been doing with these last two albums, both paired with live music documentaries, capturing live recordings, or in this case, capturing the E Street band making the magic happen in the studio. Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You is a gift for the fans of his music, but it’s actually a somber, and introspective exercise about life and what comes after. It’s obvious that Bruce Springsteen has been thinking a lot about living these days and he lays it all out on the table with Letter to You.
As far as the narrative goes, this is just a documentary of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band, gathering to record their most recent album Letter to You. It’s what director Thom Zimny, who also directed Western Stars, does with the time we spend. The cinematic choice to shoot this in black and white is a stroke of genius. The mood is set, a romantic touch, with the entire crew getting together, Max Weinberg, Steve Van Zandt, Jake Clemmons- son of the late great Clarence Clemmons- and the rest, working hard in the studio, focused on a purpose, to write great music, and appreciate the time they have together. In between each song, are montages of Springsteen’s past, with his own narration, musings, thoughts about his life, his music, and what has brought him to this point. One can’t help but notice that Springsteen is constantly contemplating the people he’s known and how lucky he feels to be a part of it.
The opening song and title track, “Letters to You” is the perfect jump start to the documentary. It’s an ode to everyone, a letter to the fans, to those that would listen, to his former bandmates that have passed away, and a theme for the entire film. The other single, “Ghosts” is a dreamy track, a deep look into the mind of Springsteen, who obviously feels the presence of those gone around him, and he even hammers that thought home in the track “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. That’s a song that will sit with me for a long time, not just because of the melody, but because it makes for a beautiful call to remember the people we lose in life.
The in-between moments of the music are just as beautiful as the songs, just as inspiring, or heart warming to be a part of. Catching Bruce in a warm embrace with his wife and backup singer Patti Scialfa. Each day of recording ends with a ceremonious shot- some guys have booze, some cups of coffee. Bruce and Van Zandt discussing where a crescendo should come in. Witnessing Bruce unashamed of having his reading glasses on while rocking out. Or just the quiet shots of winter snow banks in Colts Neck, New Jersey. There’s so much there to contemplate, everything about it is beautiful.
Yes, Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You is the perfect rock documentary for anyone who is a fan of Bruce and the E-Street Band. But, it is also more than that. It’s the kind of documentary that you let run on your TV while you listen to the music, and feel a sense of tranquility in the voice of Bruce Springsteen. Director Thom Zimny is a regular collaborator with Springsteen and he clearly knows exactly what to do. Capture the moments we can spend with this rock and roll legend and the rest tends to take care of itself. This is the kind of letter you keep somewhere special. Bruce Springsteen is telling us to cherish our lives and the people around us. I think we all should listen.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S LETTER TO YOU IS AVAILABLE ON APPLETV+ ON OCTOBER 23RD.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady