Documentary film “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You”, which came out shortly before his twentieth studio album of the same name was released in last month, gives us a close look on the artistic process of Springsteen and his regular backing band on the album. Although it will probably not enlighten you that much if you are already familiar with Springsteen’s life and career, the documentary is still enjoyable thanks to not only Springsteen’s music but also several lightweight moments among him and his colleagues, and you will be entertained as much as expected.
At first, the documentary shows Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band gathering together in a small recording studio located in Colts Neck, New Jersey in October 2018. Some of the band members including Steven Van Zandt (You may remember him for playing one of the major supporting roles in acclaimed HBO TV drama series “The Sopranos”), are as old as Springsteen himself, but they are all as lively as the younger members of the band including Jake Clemons, and everyone in the studio is quite ready for beginning the first day of their recording session.
Once the band members hit the first note as Springsteen starts to sing in the separate booth, we see how effortlessly they generate a harmonious musical tone together. While Springsteen and his band members sometimes talk and discuss a lot with each other about what should or can be changed for improving his songs, they never clash or argue with each other as always open to any good suggestion, and Springsteen later tells us how proud he has been of the E Street Band, which has been his primary backing band since 1972 and was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Shot in black and white, the documentary captures well how comfortable Springsteen and his band members are in each other’s presence even when they are not playing music in front of the camera. While they are in the middle of working on another important point in their respective professional careers, they cannot help but become a bit playful during their frequent casual conversations, which, not so surprisingly, usually revolve around their old days in the past.
Between a number of songs appearing in the film, the documentary muses on Springsteen’s past along with him. Although he already showed more of himself and his life to us in his previous music album documentary film “Western Stars” (2019), Springsteen still has lots of things to tell, and he particularly emphasizes on his longtime artistic need of connecting with many audiences out there. Like any other talented artist, he has always had an urge to express himself for more human connection with others, and he is still driven by that urge although he already passed 70 at present.
He remembers well how young and ambitious he was once more than 40 years ago – and how lucky he has been considering his long and fruitful career during last five decades. Around the time when he released his first studio album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” in 1973, a certain famous colleague of his expressed understandable concern over Springsteen’s rather overzealous effort, and that still remains as an amusing anecdote for Springsteen. Now, he is a legendary figure admired a lot by his numerous peers and juniors, and he surely has some life lessons he earned hard as going through several ups and downs in his life and career.
These admirable human qualities of his are reflected well in several songs performed in the documentary. They may not be as memorable as his many classic songs such as “Born in the USA” or “Blinded by the Light”, but they are still engaging enough for us on the whole, and they are often elevated by Springsteen’s seemingly plain but undeniably sincere delivery of his lyrics. In addition, the performances of his musicians are mostly top-notch to say the least, and it is a shame that the documentary only briefly glimpses on their performances as busily trying to show small and big aspects of their recording process.
Anyway, under the competent direction of director/editor Thom Zimny, who previously directed “Western Stars”, the documentary smoothly flows from one excellent musical moment to another while occasionally accompanied with the gorgeous shots of wide forest areas on late autumn days. It is also interesting to observe Springsteen’s past via a number of archival materials including an old video clip showing young Springsteen at the early stage of his career, and you can sense that he is still as spirited as before while also becoming wiser than before.
As I told you before in my review on “Western Stars”, I had been vaguely aware of Springsteen’s works only through a few notable songs including his Oscar-winning song for “Philadelphia” (1993) before watching “Western Stars”, and I am still not so familiar with most of Springsteen’s works even at this point, but I found that “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You” is accessible to me despite that. Although it simply confirms again to me on what I observed and learned from “Western Stars”, the documentary is worthwhile to watch despite that, and you certainly should not miss it if you are one of millions of admirers of the Boss and his music and career out there.