Call it a crowd-sourced rockumentary, and you won’t be far off the mark. Springsteen & I — which screens Monday, July 22, and Tuesday, July 30, in Austin and some 500 other cities — is a celebratory and hard-rocking documentary assembled from 2,000 video submissions by Bruce Springsteen’s most fervent fans. (Ticket and venue info is available here.)
A production of Ridley Scott’s Scott Free outfit, the movie covers four decades of Spingsteenmania, featuring dazzling clips of the New Jersey rocker in concerts throughout the world — and revealing anecdotes by fans who talk about how Springsteen’s music, and Springsteen himself, has deeply and personally affected them.
According to director Baillie Walsh, whose job it was to shape hundreds of hours of amateur and professional footage into a feature-length movie, Bruce Springsteen and his people took a hands-off approach to the project. They gave their blessing and permission to use Springsteen’s music, but they neither requested nor received any editorial control.
It should be noted, however, that Springsteen clearly was pleased with what he saw during a preview screening: He’s provided previously unreleased material — including footage from his 2012 Hyde Park Concert featuring Springsteen’s once-in-a-lifetime performance with Paul McCartney — to be shown as a kinda-sorta coda for the documentary.
All of which may explain why Walsh sounded so over-the-moon effervescent when he phoned last week to talk about Springsteen & I.
CultureMap: What was your initial response when Scott Free initially approached you to direct Springsteen & I?
Baillie Walsh: Oh, I was completely daunted. Which is of course why I took the project on. I love to be frightened of a project. And I love to have no idea on earth how I’m going to do it. So that was a kind of tempting bait for me to make this movie.
CM: Did you start out with an overall design in your head for how the movie should be shaped and structured?
BW: Not at all. I didn’t have any agenda when I started the movie, because I really had no idea what the movie was going to be. So I let the movie make itself, in a way, in the sense that what the fans sent to me would dictate what the movie was going to be. From the 2,000 contributions we got, I managed — and enjoyed — making the movie what it is.
Obviously, the music was going to play a big part in that, and I did realize that from the very beginning. But that was my thread, in a sense. I knew that as long as I had access to archive material, and access to Bruce’s music, I knew I could build something on that.
CM: Can you recall the first time you looked at footage someone sent you, and you thought, “Oh my God! I can’t believe I got this!”?
BW: I remember feeling that way a few times, as a matter of fact. There are those days when you’re looking at footage contributors sent in, and you know they’re interesting stories, but you know it’s not quite right somehow, and it’s not grabbing you. And then, in amongst that, suddenly, you’ll get a gem.
I don’t want to pick out any one of them, because I think all of those stories we have in the film are very special. And I don’t want to highlight one particular story, because that might denigrate the others in a way, or lessen the others.
But I will say that when I was looking at and editing those hundreds of hours — certainly, when you get a gem, it’s fantastic. And you think, “We’ve got something! We’re on to something!” And it’s very exciting.
CM: I can’t help thinking you had a “Eureka!” moment when you saw the footage of Elvis Presley impersonator Nick Ferraro being plucked out of the crowd and invited to perform on stage with Springsteen.
BW: What I love about that is not only do we get him on stage — which is a great moment — but what for me is more special than that is the way Nick and his wife, Dottie, tell their story. And they tell the story with such passion and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to be emotional about it. I mean, you’re there with them.
CM: Did you have any preconceptions about Bruce Springsteen before making this movie that you wound up rethinking or discarding?
BW: Not really. Because I didn’t come to this as a fan; I came to this as a filmmaker. And I think it was very good that I came to this without being a fan. I have to say, I am a massive admirer of Bruce now. But I had to have a very quick learning curve about Bruce’s career, and about Bruce.
I learned an awful lot about the man. And I think that as a human being, he’s extraordinary. He’s a great inspiration to people. And I think as a rock artist, he’s an especially great inspiration to people. Because he brings out the best in people in a very positive way through his generosity and his humanitarianism. He’s a great influence on people.
CM: What part of the movie do you think best illustrates that?
BW: Well, you see that scene in Copenhagen near the end of the film, where Bruce runs into that busker. And he basically asks Bruce to come and play with him. And he does. There he is, walking the streets of Copenhagen, and he’s without security, he’s at the height of his fame, just walking around with the band — and he just starts busking with this guy.
Well, the generosity of that is extraordinary. And the naturalness of it. The spontaneity of it. And I think that’s a great illustration of the character of Bruce Springsteen.
CM: What’s the best reason for seeing Springsteen & I on the big screen, rather than waiting for Blu-Ray or DVD?
BW: Because while you watch it it becomes like a concert. And it’s a communal experience. And because Bruce is all about his fans and going to his gigs, hopefully it’s going to have the same effect.
CM: Do you think it’ll eventually have “singalong” screenings?
BW: I really hope so. My hope for it, actually, is that one day – and maybe it’s not a realistic hope – it becomes like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where everyone who came would dress up like a character in the film.