FILM-WESTERN-REVIEW

Bruce Springsteen is the subject and co-director of the concert documentary “Western Stars.” 

Bruce Springsteen’s latest film project brought a 30-member orchestra into his barn to capture a performance of all 13 songs on his new album, “Western Stars.” The result offers a compelling combination of universal emotions and sentimental intimacy.

“It’s not a concert film; it’s not a documentary,” said Springsteen’s co-director, Thom Zimny. “It’s more of a tone poem.”

Zimny, who has collaborated on projects with Springsteen for more than two decades, will be on hand for the screening at 5:30 p.m. today at the Paramount Theater as part of the 32nd annual Virginia Film Festival. Zimny will take part in a discussion moderated by the Miller Center’s Bill Antholis.

“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years, and although the film continues a reflective sort of ongoing creative conversation about love, loss, achievement and the passage of time, it adds a grounding sense of place.

“The one thing we had recently completed was ‘Springsteen on Broadway,’ but we didn’t want to repeat that,” Zimny said. “We didn’t want to go to his traditional stage.”

At once rustic and refined, “his barn was a magical space,” Zimny said.

The barn’s sound and aesthetic set the right tone, and the directors started reaching for more.

“From there, we did some interviews, but they weren’t telling the real story,” he said.

Springsteen watched a rough cut of the footage and wrote a script for it, adding some more music, Zimny said.

“It’s extremely rewarding, and a bit of a dream come true,” Zimny said. “It was great to collaborate with him, but it was great to watch him compose in the studio, too.

“It just grew to be a very different film. It unfolded very organically.”

As Springsteen’s own snapshots and home movies found their way into the project, “the ‘Western Stars’ film ended up being very personal,” Zimny said.

The combination of universal themes and personal reflections invited a visual storytelling style that drew on moments from Springsteen’s life and career and sweeping imagery from the expansive West.

The balance the men struck in the film gives viewers a way to find themselves in the story, just as the best musical albums do.

“I think the film ‘Western Stars’ allows people to stumble into the film not knowing Bruce and his music,” Zimny said. “This film gives you an opportunity to reflect on your own life. The film gives you space to step into it.”

A creative work environment and an unfolding sense of discovery made “Western Stars” a rewarding project to work on, and Zimny said it reflects many aspects of their collaboration.

“Bruce is great to work with as a co-director,” Zimny said. “In the past 20 years, working with Bruce, you have to be ready for surprises. Surprise and spontaneity are built into the experience with Bruce.”

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