News

Bruce Springsteen Gives Love to The Irishman, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood As He Makes His Own Directorial Debut

The veteran rocker and director of Western Stars reveals how Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, John Ford, and Quentin Tarantino have shaped and inspired his music.

by | October 24, 2019 | Comments

This year’s Oscar race may indeed come down to two battle-weary veterans, with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in prime position for a classic Hollywood showdown next February. On the other side country, tucked back on a nondescript road amidst the farmland of New Jersey, sits the home of another iconic veteran who’s got a new film that may not challenge those films for Best Picture glory, but which thematically feels right at home with the Scorsese and Tarantino movies. It’s called Western Stars, and it marks the feature directorial debut of rock legend Bruce Springsteen.

Co-directed by Springsteen and his longtime collaborator Thom Zimny, Western Stars is part concert film, part meditation on the complexities of getting older. With some of the film set on Springsteen’s farm and some set out among the quiet stillness of the Californian desert, Western Stars isn’t as big, bold, and flashy as both The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but all three films contemplate the effects of aging, of confronting regrets and mistakes, of trying to embrace what’s there instead of what isn’t. Springsteen, who turned 70 last month, is certainly aware of the similarities between the pictures – and even more revealing: Irishman and Hollywood are two of his favorite films of the year.

Seated comfortably on a couch inside his New Jersey recording studio, dressed in classic Springsteen attire (blue jeans, jean jacket and white undershirt, natch), the music legend and now film director spoke at length with Rotten Tomatoes about how his love of film has inspired him as a man and as an artist. From the Westerns of John Ford to the sprawling meditative works of Terrence Malick, the musician doesn’t hold back when it comes to his own cinematic influences.

Western Stars
(Photo by Rob DeMartin, © Warner Bros. )

The Grapes of Wrath had a huge influence on me when I saw it – just the imagery and the story it was telling,” he said. “Of course, The Searchers and all the Westerns, which I had seen as a kid, but never really absorbed. Also, the noir stuff, like Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum… that was a huge film for me. And then there were more modern things, like Martin Scorsese’s pictures – but also I remember at the time I wrote ‘Nebraska,’ I had seen a Terrence Malick picture for the first time. [His films] are meditative; lots of voiceover… Days of Heaven, Tree of Life. The soundscape for ‘Nebraska’ really came from Badlands, the Malick picture.”

Springsteen told Rotten Tomatoes he began watching a lot of films when he was about 27, “from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ forward.” He said: “I became a bit of a film buff; I was looking at other artists and the way they were conceptualizing their work. So of course, I ran into John Ford, and I thought it was interesting how he was working on certain consistent themes in every picture. How every picture sort of related to another one in certain ways; you had the cast of characters and an ensemble that he worked with really steadily. You know, I had my band and I was interested in telling this longer story where each album would relate to another in a certain way.”

That consistency in collaboration is what also drew Springsteen to Scorsese’s work, and it’s what is top of mind when he discusses the director’s epic new work, The Irishman.

“With The Irishman, it was beautiful to see that cast working together again,” he said. “To see Marty at the top of his game… those guys and that history, you’re never going to see that again. That group of actors – there’s never going to be a group of actors quite like that again. And if you grew up with them, as folks in my generation did, that’s a powerful picture.”

Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
(Photo by Rob DeMartin, © Warner Bros. )

In Western Stars, Springsteen chose a unique format through which to share his newest album with the world. Instead of touring with it, he created this film as a record of the music and the stories behind each song, but also of his love for his wife, Patti Scialfa, who plays beside him on each tune with the duo backed by an orchestra inside an old barn on Springsteen’s sprawling farm in New Jersey. The film – featuring songs about lost, often broken men in search of redemption interspersed with thoughtful, almost-poetic words of wisdom from the Boss himself – feels like it’s about a man letting go of his mistakes in order to embrace the love that’s all around him.

We asked Springsteen if that was an accurate take on Western Stars as a whole.

“That’s as good an explanation of it as any, you know,” he said with a smile. “It’s about a trip or a journey that everyone has to make. When you’re young, you wanna do what you wanna do when you wanna do it. Individual freedom means an awful amount to you. But as you get into your thirties and certainly your forties, life begins to thin out, if that’s how you’re approaching it. And so [you’re on this] pursuit of a fuller life, and in a very strange way it’s the domestic constraints [that] provide you with a freer life. As you get older, you have a home, a place to gather yourself and reasons for the work that you’re performing. The definition of what freedom is alters as you grow older, and so the film is about the way that that word changes as time passes by. But it’s also about the price you pay if you don’t grow or change as that time passes by.”

As he so often does at all of his shows, Springsteen ends the film with a more celebratory encore, covering Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” as if to leave audiences with one last anecdote: never stop chasing your dreams.

“The character in the film makes this journey, and it needed to be celebrated a little bit,” he said. “When the song comes up, it’s a release for the audience. It’s also slightly connected to the genre I was working in; Glen Campbell was an inspiration for a lot of the song stylings.

Of course, it’s hard not to discuss “Rhinestone Cowboy” and the aging cowboys featured in Western Stars and The Irishman without also bringing up the aging cowboys at the center of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Springsteen not only told us that he had seen the film, but also that he’s a big fan of Tarantino’s latest. “I did see it, and I thought, yeah, that’s a funny little coincidence,” he said when the thematic similarities were brought up. “I really loved it – that was one of my favorite pictures of the past year. It was quite touching, and quite lovely.”


Western Stars is in limited release October 25.

#1

Western Stars (2019)
94%

#1
Adjusted Score: 95.348%
Critics Consensus: A cinematic gift for Springsteen fans, Western Stars serves as a worthy companion piece to the album of the same name.
Synopsis: "Western Stars" is a cinematic film version of Bruce Springsteen's latest globally successful album of the same name. Springsteen's longtime... [More]

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

robots canceled PBS hispanic sports TNT Comedy Ovation screen actors guild Rom-Com First Reviews unscripted SXSW History Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Red Carpet talk show mockumentary See It Skip It biography spider-man kids ABC Family justice league Binge Guide YouTube ratings werewolf singing competition elevated horror Tarantino video on demand Tubi Ellie Kemper anime Writers Guild of America comedies blaxploitation blockbuster Marvel Television 2018 BAFTA Women's History Month teaser Superheroe Disney Plus Trophy Talk spanish language NYCC Disney dc The Purge cooking Countdown Reality Freeform Summer Video Games Calendar YA Turner scary movies Rock Pixar quibi witnail social media Chernobyl critics Mystery Certified Fresh TCM festivals New York Comic Con historical drama PaleyFest First Look Hallmark cops Awards Tour Esquire TIFF NBC Infographic anthology richard e. Grant 4/20 versus E3 cars Syfy The CW medical drama Pirates cults halloween game show Trivia HBO Go Musical Crunchyroll Black Mirror Anna Paquin book Walt Disney Pictures Captain marvel FOX Turner Classic Movies APB Cannes Mudbound Tomatazos USA Network Nat Geo Universal 71st Emmy Awards 24 frames PlayStation Mindy Kaling movie WarnerMedia 007 dogs 45 game of thrones Netflix Christmas movies BBC America The Arrangement dragons Spike 2017 romance DirecTV ESPN toy story Chilling Adventures of Sabrina CNN aliens Extras Disney Channel TV renewals 21st Century Fox Baby Yoda Martial Arts TCA Winter 2020 green book Reality Competition Comics on TV Schedule Columbia Pictures rotten movies we love San Diego Comic-Con crossover Acorn TV concert disaster Grammys TruTV twilight The Witch Watching Series Star Wars Hallmark Christmas movies Winter TV natural history Disney+ Disney Plus Paramount RT21 Pop TV Sundance TV binge adventure spinoff Stephen King Awards Sundance Britbox HBO Sci-Fi Marvel Studios directors foreign slashers Super Bowl space Valentine's Day strong female leads Opinion Family crime drama FX on Hulu politics Pride Month tv talk BET TLC Shondaland Holiday Masterpiece Epix DGA GLAAD cancelled indie WGN YouTube Red Emmy Nominations 2020 Horror criterion Star Trek television SDCC satire Discovery Channel Best and Worst chucky Christmas breaking bad Warner Bros. Peacock BBC Winners all-time RT History TCA 2017 universal monsters zombies Drama cinemax Spring TV a nightmare on elm street Mary Poppins Returns Marathons Netflix crime DC streaming service Action science fiction Spectrum Originals Endgame BBC One docudrama revenge E! Fox News latino TBS Vudu political drama Classic Film composers Lifetime Oscars Crackle Travel Channel police drama OWN Lionsgate Paramount Network Emmys transformers Television Academy Pop screenings TV Land based on movie Amazon Studios dark TV Ghostbusters spain harry potter Amazon Prime cartoon AMC Food Network Sony Pictures Character Guide Fall TV IFC Films VH1 dceu 2019 HBO Max Fantasy comic Avengers Starz die hard animated franchise Photos hist MSNBC independent ABC Pet Sematary TCA cancelled TV shows Polls and Games Lifetime Christmas movies children's TV President CBS All Access sequel Set visit Western diversity asian-american stoner Arrowverse IFC period drama Mary Tyler Moore psychological thriller Black History Month technology cats Music Adult Swim best renewed TV shows theme song finale golden globes 20th Century Fox mutant Cartoon Network Sundance Now boxoffice award winner supernatural travel Disney streaming service news Film Festival Sneak Peek FXX what to watch Animation Toys batman Rocketman Film Trailer VICE BET Awards name the review DC Universe Hear Us Out OneApp casting Biopics Holidays Tumblr south america indiana jones LGBTQ joker thriller Brie Larson Funimation Amazon Prime Video Musicals crime thriller Superheroes Comic Book nature serial killer free movies Dark Horse Comics Interview romantic comedy Creative Arts Emmys Apple El Rey Mary poppins Academy Awards Bravo doctor who Heroines streaming Song of Ice and Fire Kids & Family Comedy Central CBS spy thriller stand-up comedy LGBT war FX CMT sag awards parents Podcast reviews Elton John MCU zero dark thirty Lucasfilm true crime series Thanksgiving USA Shudder Premiere Dates CW Seed Amazon miniseries documentary reboot SundanceTV jamie lee curtis Country movies psycho ghosts DC Comics video Logo christmas movies GIFs Teen Marvel child's play 2016 ITV dramedy Quiz A24 Hulu 2015 facebook MTV Apple TV Plus Cosplay American Society of Cinematographers Year in Review zombie A&E canceled TV shows Nominations discovery vampires Apple TV+ documentaries cancelled television VOD sitcom films Nickelodeon Election mission: impossible comiccon YouTube Premium X-Men comics Showtime cancelled TV series GoT The Walking Dead Rocky Box Office adaptation National Geographic