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MOVIES: Western Stars (LFF 2019) - Review

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Western Stars is a Bruce Springsteen concert film, made for fans and fans only - there is almost zero to no appeal for those who aren’t fans of The Boss, but then if you’re not a fan, you really should be by now. Using Springsteen's new album as a source of inspiration and recorded in a few days with new and old favourites alike in a barn that captures the feel of the genre perfectly, the film’s aesthetic bleeds rock and country, with Springsteen casting himself as an ageing actor who has been in one too many westerns.

Forced to come to terms that his career is over, Springsteen's character is the oldest man in bars, seeking solace in the desert and roaming from town to town. There’s something always reliable about Springsteen - although he’s considered to be long past his “prime” he’s still putting out solid, dependable records with Western Stars being an excellent addition to his discography, long past the hits of Born to Run and Thunder Road. Witnessing songs like Tucson Train and There Goes My Miracle and of course the titular track which is the beating heart of the album called Western Stars - performed on the biggest screen available was suitably brilliant, even in a virtually empty theatre.

The film’s lighting is excellent, and it’s one of the best directed concert films in recent memory, with a neon tinted tone that feels out of place in comparison to the country music beats yet at the same time, oddly familiar and welcoming. The lighting captures the atmosphere of the barn where we spend much of the film perfectly, and the camera always keeps its eye on Springsteen and his accompanying band perfectly, giving them the respect that they deserve.

Interspaced with flashbacks to his past including his marriage, Western Stars covers some familiar ground to those who are fans - and it doesn’t contain a wealth of information outside of the occasional amount of archive footage that fits nicely when interspaced against the gorgeous cinematography of the open desert that captures the wonderful terrain that Springsteen makes his home for this film, which in places, feels like a love letter to the genre, both in music and film, as Springsteen is clearly a fan of both and it rings true, bringing a sense of authenticity that The Boss has never truly lost.

New information however, is not what concert films are there for, they’re there for the music, and in that case, Western Stars more than delivers, almost reaching the upper echelons of the medium. In the same year as BeyoncĂ©’s spectacle driven and medium defining Homecoming there is enough to make Western Stars standout and leave an impression on the audience in its own right, keeping the hangout and warmth feel to it that makes its pacing structure fly by with its length never being really felt at all – there were places where it almost felt like a 30 minute TV episode and arguably, if there was anything wrong with Western Stars it was that I could have simply sat around for much, much longer.

And if there was need for an extra treat for Springsteen fans to have for them to be sold on this concert film, what’s not to like about the artist's stellar cover of Rhinestone Cowboy, which closes the credits in style?

You can watch the full trailer for Western Stars here.

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