‘Blinded by the Light’ and the Global Appeal of Bruce Springsteen

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In this moment (which keeps getting longer) of peak music films, along comes the unlikely, true and thoroughly enjoyable story of a British Pakistani teenager who comes to embrace the music and message of Bruce Springsteen as an answer to his small-town life.

The film is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s acclaimed autobiography Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock ’N’ Roll. The new feature, released August 16, is ably directed by Gurinder Chadha, who previously showed her skills in the delightful Bend it Like Beckham.

In Blinded by the Light, Javed (Viveik Kalra) is growing up in the town of Luton, England, while dealing with a father who wants to narrow the son’s dreams and aspirations and, more importantly, approved the massive use of his music in it.

Related: Guess who turned up to perform at the film’s New Jersey premiere?

The director wrote recently about showing Springsteen her final cut of the film:

“I sat behind Bruce like a teenager, peeking over his shoulder to see if he was responding to the film, laughing in the right places, etc. The lights came up in the screening room, I held my breath. Without Bruce’s approval, we had no film. Bruce walked towards me, gave me a big hug and kiss, and said, ‘Thank you for honoring me so beautifully. Don’t change a thing.’ It was the greatest review I’ve ever received.”

At the film’s premiere in Asbury Park: Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen, writer/director producer Gurinder Chadha and Viveik Kalra, who plays Javed in “Blinded By The Light.” © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

This is warmly reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s story of sitting in the screening room behind Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, awaiting their OK to use Led Zeppelin songs in Almost Famous.

The film’s title Blinded by the Light comes from the first song on Springsteen’s first album, and the reference is poignantly delivered toward the end of the film. The bulk of Springsteen’s music in the soundtrack comes from the 1980s; the film is set in 1987. Both Asbury Park and Luton went through political, racial and economic unrest. Although Luton does not have a boardwalk, we understand Javed’s growing affinity for the musician’s perspective. The wrenching economic downturns in both towns merge for Javed.

Listen to the previously unreleased “I’ll Stand By You”

A discerning high school teacher spots Javed’s skill in writing, which does provide the student with a shot at the world beyond Luton.

The most poignant scenes in the film are between Javed and his father (the persuasive Kulvinder Ghir). The clash between tradition and the aspirations of youth are central to the film’s strength. Delightful are the scenes as Javed’s sisters and school mates remain perplexed by his growing admiration for a blue-collar American singer. One of the enjoyable riffs in the film is the juxtaposition with the disposable British pop of the ’80s that fills most everyone else’s life.

Bruce Springsteen, Anaheim, December 2012 (photo by Brad Auerbach, used with permission)

One sequence is reminiscent of Rocketman, taking a Springsteen song into the realm of song and dance musical theatre. The flight of fancy surprisingly works.

Most of the Springsteen songs are directly from his albums, but several obscure versions of familiar songs add poignancy to the scenes. In one instance, a long, extended instrumental passage is used effectively in an important scene en route to a wedding.

Watch the official trailer for Blinded by the Light

In much the same way that Nowhere Boy would have been enjoyable even if it was not about John Lennon, Blinded by the Light would work without the pervasive Springsteen influence. Indeed, there are moments in the film that steer dangerously close to idolatry of The Boss, but the director pulls back and a wider humanity is put in perspective.

It will be most interesting to monitor the appeal of this film for a younger generation relatively unfamiliar with Springsteen’s music. Certainly anyone remotely a fan will fully appreciate the film, which is earnestly delivered in a compelling and heartfelt way.

Watch Bruce Springsteen perform the song whose title is borrowed for the film

Blinded By The Light Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Track List
Ode To Javed/Javed’s Poem – A.R. Rahman
It’s a Sin – Pet Shop Boys
The Sun Always Shines on T.V. – a-ha
“The Boss Of Us All” (dialogue)
Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen
“You Should Be Listening To Our Music” (dialogue)
“I Never Knew Music Could Be Like This” (dialogue)
*The River– Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Live at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – September 21, 1979) (previously unavailable on an album)
“Number One Paki Film” (dialogue)
Badlands – Bruce Springsteen
Cover Me – Bruce Springsteen
Thunder Road– Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Live at The Roxy Theater, West Hollywood, CA – October 18, 1975)
Get Outta My Way Fascist Pigs – Amer Chadha-Patel
“Do It For Me” (dialogue)
Prove It All Night – Bruce Springsteen
Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen
“You, Me…and Bruce” (dialogue)
Because the Night – Bruce Springsteen
Maar Chadapa – Heera
*The Promised Land – Bruce Springsteen (Live on The National Mall, Washington, D.C. – November 11, 2014)
Blinded By The Light – Bruce Springsteen
Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
*I’ll Stand By You – Bruce Springsteen (previously unreleased studio recording)
*For You My Love – A.R. Rahman (new original song for film)

* previously unavailable on an album

Related: Our review of Springsteen’s new studio album, Western Stars

Brad Auerbach

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