Springsteen & I has been billed as a documentary about Bruce Springsteen‘s fans. It is that, though as documentaries go, it’s unconventional. The film is made almost entirely of clips shot by fans who submitted them for inclusion in the documentary, likely making it one of the first crowd-sourced feature-length films with actual distribution in history.
To be clear, the filmmakers shot no footage, nor did they record any voiceovers. Other than some performance clips, it is really the fans telling their own story. Over 2,000 fans around the world submitted their own video testimonials, not counting the thousands more whose stories did not make the cut (if you search “Springsteen & I” on YouTube, there are millions of results).
How you actually like the film depends on a) your definition of the term “documentary” and b) how much you appreciate Springsteen and the devotion he gets from his fans. That level of devotion can sometimes inspire eye-rolls from non-believers, and director Baillie Walsh gives a non-fan some airtime in the film as well (having been dragged to Springsteen shows by his significant other, he laughably asks Springsteen to make his concerts shorter). Walsh himself has said he isn’t a fan, and the film probably benefits from his more objective eye.
The documentary lacks any real narration, and at first plays like a YouTube playlist. But as the film goes on, the clips tell their own story. Even the biggest Springsteen cynic may give the man a listen after watching the film. At the very least, they’ll walk away with more appreciation for his bond with fans.
There are, for sure, some weird moments: a woman who directs her son on camera, telling him to describe Bruce’s lyrics as the boy squirms uncomfortably. Or another mother, who explains that she used to show a photo of Springsteen to her young child, point to it, and say “daddy!” Others are merely uncomfortable: the guy who tries explaining Springsteen’s music and breaks down into tears while driving, or a woman who describes a sort of sexual awakening she had at a Springsteen show.
However, there’s a genuine sweetness to most of the stories. A young, Asian, female truck driver feels that there’s honor in her work when she listens to Springsteen. A young European man describes being at a concert and having someone he’d never met before or since put his arm around him; “It didn’t seem weird at all!” he boasts, in the spirit of mutual fandom. Meanwhile, an American couple who have been together for two decades dance to “Radio Nowhere” in their kitchen.
Then there’s the factory worker from Europe — the kind of guy Springsteen has written about in numerous songs — describing his 2000 trip to New York City to see the end of Springsteen & The E Street Band’s reunion tour, and getting a “ticket upgrade” (it’s common at Bruce Springsteen concerts for employees of his management company, clad in all black, approach fans with the worst seats and upgrade them, putting them in the front row). His facial expression tells the rest of the story.
There’s also the folks who had their own brushes with the man himself: a British woman who brought a sign to a show that read, “I’ll be your Courtney Cox” (a reference to “Dancing In The Dark” video) and gets called up on stage by Bruce. Another guy who brought a sign that read, “I just got dumped.” Bruce asks him, in front of an arena of people, “What happened, bro?” The fan’s response: “She said I didn’t spend enough time with her.” “You probably didn’t!” was Springsteen’s answer, but at least the guy got a hug. The busker who saw Bruce on the streets of Europe and successfully invited him to jam (“They say you only get 15 minutes of fame,” he said, noting that they performed together for 15 minutes and 17 seconds, thank you very much.) And the Elvis impersonator who actually joined Bruce on stage for “All Shook Up” in Philadelphia.
At a screening of the film last week in New York City (July 11), some of the fans from the film were seated in the VIP section of the audience and took part in a panel discussion, along with director Baillie Walsh. For one night, they were treated as stars, which seemed fitting; many of them could well have been the stars of Springsteen’s songs. In the end, this has always been his appeal, and why he inspires such loyalty among his fans.
Springsteen & I opens in theaters nationwide for a one-night screening July 22.
– Brian Ives, Radio.com