×

Bruce Springsteen Talks ‘Western Stars’ Film, Explains ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Cover at New York Premiere

It’s been widely reported that for his most recent album, “Western Stars,” Bruce Springsteen sought inspiration from styles of music he had never previously leaned on: the smooth orchestrated pop that composers such as Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach perfected in the 1960s and ‘70s. As he pointed out, less noted is the fact that for the first time in his career, he used major seventh chords.

Yet as different as “Western Stars” is from his other 18 studio albums, for the film of a performance of the album, he leaned on something very familiar: Telling his personal truths — about his shortcomings as a person, his desire for a better tomorrow for his family and country, subjects like redemption and forgiveness and love.

Between songs in the film, which had its New York premiere on a very rainy Wednesday on the Lower East Side, Springsteen reflects on his life and songwriting much as he did in his book, Broadway show and at many a concert with the E Street Band.

“It was all very organic,” Springsteen said of the process of writing a script for the concert film he co-directed with longtime collaborator Thom Zimny. “We weren’t going to tour, so I decided to film a performance of the album and then, out of that, I felt like I needed to have a way that the fans could access the inner life of the songs. And so I started to write a script that turned into a movie, and here we are.

“It’s not something you’re thinking a lot of before you do it.”

Zimny said the spoken portions of the film — which truly distinguish it from other concert films — evolved after the two sat down with an early cut and the interstitials were interviews with Springsteen talking about the songs. “It didn’t feel right, and Bruce came back with this script and it worked.”

Springsteen started contemplating the album in 2012 and over time wrote about 40 songs before editing it down to the 14 that made the collection. The film was much quicker: they rehearsed for a day with the orchestra in New York, then once in the barn on his ranch in Colt’s Neck, N.J., and then shot it over two days.

“We looked at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, and thought about that,” Springsteen said of his location scouting, “but the barn was really, really significant. It worked out perfectly.”

Zimny, who has made all of Springsteen’s archival films and won an Emmy for directing the “Springsteen on Broadway” pic on Netflix, attended some of the album’s recording sessions but didn’t film any of them.

Then Springsteen called and suggested they make a film of the album’s songs. Just the “cinematic nature” of the songs, Zimny says, made it different from the Broadway film. “We knew we wanted a small audience, that the film would really capture the fullness of the sound of the orchestra. The songs are small movies of their own — they’re all [self-contained] stories.”

Collectively, they mapped out the shots and worked side-by-side in the editing room piecing together the performance, old home movies, shots of the open wilderness and Springsteen’s commentary. As Springsteen said at a London Q&A this week, “It was very enjoyable because I got to go inside the songs again, and try to have a deeper understanding of what they were actually about.”

Wednesday’s event was attended by longtime Springsteen associates such as Steven Van Zandt and Jimmy Iovine plus manager Jon Landau, Clive Davis and filmmaker David Chase.

Variety got The Boss to smile and shrug when we questioned his selection of “Rhinestone Cowboy” as the film’s lone cover. It’s one of the few Glen Campbell hits Jimmy Webb did not write.

“It was just a song that came up in an instant, you know,” he said. “A really beautifully written song [by Larry Weis] and it was always one of my favorites by Glen Campbell.”

More Film

  • Bong Joon Ho 'Parasite' Director

    Listen: Who Will Take Home the Oscars for Best Director and Picture?

    The Oscars are just two weeks away, so it’s time to start making final predictions about who is going to win. On this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, I invited the magazine’s deputy awards and features editor (and my “Pick of the Week” co-host) Jenelle Riley onto the show [...]

  • Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

    'Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets': Film Review

    “Smile for the camera, motherf—ers,” warns the graffiti outside the Roaring Twenties, a Las Vegas dive bar where spirits are high because the end is nigh. The boozers who’ve braved this dim red cave, in Bill and Turner Ross’ bitterly funny docufiction film “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” have signed on to play themselves in an [...]

  • Mucho Mucho Amor

    'Mucho Mucho Amor': Film Review

    What a fraud, you might have thought glimpsing astrologist Walter Mercado on TV in the ’90s. But you wouldn’t forget his face. The bejeweled and blonded psychic hotline pitchman looked like a sorcerer from outer space. Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch’s giddily glittery documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor” traces the half-century that Mercado was a global [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Number of Black Oscar Nominees Hits 3-Year Low in 2020

    The Oscars’ failure to nominate any female directors has ignited a fierce backlash, as has the lack of diversity among top acting nominees. A deeper dive into the categories reveals that the number of black nominees hit a three-year low. Only five black people were nominated for Oscars in 2020. That’s down from 15 in [...]

  • Herself

    'Herself': Film Review

    In 2008, opera director Phyllida Lloyd’s pop-cornball big-screen debut, “Mamma Mia!,” more than earned its exclamation point, grossing more than $600 million worldwide. Three years later, her more serious-minded follow-up, “The Iron Lady,” earned Meryl Streep an Oscar. Most people would agree that was a not-too-shabby start for a helmer of any gender. But instead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content