Bruce Springsteen’s music has always been cinematic, which is one reason why so many of his songs strike a chord at the movies.
Friday is the premiere of the film, “Blinded By The Light,” which tells the story of a British-Pakistani teenager and his journey after discovering the Boss’ music. Based on the book, “Greetings From Bury Park,” by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film makes excellent use of Springsteen classics like “Jungleland” and “The Promised Land.”
But no matter where they’re used, Springsteen’s songs enliven film scenes. And the man himself does as much in “High Fidelity” — a fantasy sequence from the 2000 film in which he gives advice to John Cusack’s character as he strums his Fender and tells him to “move on down the road.”
Which is what we’re going to do, after serving up these six great examples of Springsteen music used well in films.
If there’s one key skill that music critics can bring to filmmaking, it’s the ability to place the right song in the right scene. Music critic-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe does exactly that in this 1996 film, as Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” uses this song to frame the arc of the love story, as Tom Cruise’s character struggles to be the man that single mom Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) needs.
Springsteen’s affinity for the working classes in song has been well documented, but it rarely has a more fitting visual element than in this 1997 James Mangold-directed film, where Sylvester Stallone portrays a small-town Jersey sheriff surrounded by crooked cops. In one heartbreaking scene, he comes home, goes straight to his turntable and puts on Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” — the song says more than dialog ever could.
Props must be given to Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith, who directed Ben Affleck in this 2004 film about a father trying to raise his daughter after his wife passes away. Yes, Smith named the film after the Tom Waits song that has become part of the Springsteen canon, but it was his use of “My City of Ruins” as Affleck visits his wife’s grave that places the song — written first for the resurgence of the Boss’ beloved Asbury Park, and later identified as a tribute to New York City after the 9/11 attacks — in a new light.
“No Looking Back”
Directed by Edward Burns, this 1998 film tells the story of characters in a seaside town, and happens to star another New Jersey Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — Jon Bon Jovi, who portrayed the boyfriend of actress Lauren Holly. Burns not only featured three songs by Springsteen — “One Step Up” and “Valentine’s Day” from 1987’s “Tunnel of Love,” and “I’m on Fire” from “Born in the USA” — but he kept it in the family with five songs by his singer wife Patti Scialfa, including three from her 1993 “Rumble Doll” album.
Springsteen’s friend Mickey Rourke, who stars in this 2008 film, asked him to write the song as a favor, and the Boss obliged. Although the song was nominated for a Grammy and an MTV Movie Award, it was passed over for an Academy Award nomination (only three were nominated that year). The song’s lyrics suit Rourke’s character, as a wrestler who’s career is rapidly declining: “Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making the way down the street?/ If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog, then you’ve seen me.”
Springsteen won an Academy Award for “Streets of Philadelphia,” written for the 1993 Jonathan Demme film, “Philadelphia,” and probably the best-known use of the Boss’ music in cinema. Demme asked Springsteen to write the song to bring awareness to the AIDS crisis, and the song’s lyrics, “Oh brother, are you gonna leave me wastin’ away,” are absolutely heartbreaking in a sequence illustrating the frustration and hopelessness of Tom Hanks’ character.