Movie Night: Springsteen and I, 20 Feet From Stardom, Picasso Baby

Two music documentaries made me very happy lately. Twenty Feet From Stardom will appeal to a broad range of movie and music fans. The Springsteen film is more for music fans. I’ll also add a lagniappe: a 10-minute performance art video from Jay Z.

Springsteen and I

Springsteen and I is a crowdsourced film, composed mostly of home videos contributed by Springsteen fans who describe what the music of Bruce Springsteen has meant to them. The director, Baillie Walsh, a British music video and film director, apparently isn’t a Springsteen fan. These facts promised something less than a satisfying film experience. Ridley Scott was listed as a producer, however, which made me feel a little more confident. I didn’t have high expectations for this film, but as a Springsteen obsessive, I could hardly miss it.

1189cover-286-1375209676It turned out to be a fun and interesting film with many delightful film clips, punctuated by concert footage, and finished off with a mini-concert. At the end of the film, we learn that Bruce has seen the film and invited a small group of contributors to meet before a concert. Since he has seen their film statements, he knows who each person is and he comments to each of them about their experiences when they arrive. Springsteen is a performer of magical qualities, but he is not a slick, eloquent speaker. He often stumbles a bit and has a silly giggle. So it’s fun to see him struggle to tell his fans how much their stories mean to him.

The film is full of funny and poignant stories. Like these.

A woman sitting in her car asks, “See all these CDs?” (25 or 30 of them are lined up across visors on both sides of car.) “These are all Bruce Springsteen CDs…. When my three boys are in the car, they know we’re going to listen to Bruce Springsteen and nothing else.… And my proudest moments are when they sing along with me – because they know the words too.”

A couple sitting on a park bench remember when he, an Elvis impersonator, was invited up on stage from the pit section. Elvis takes the microphone for not one, but two, songs and was starting on a third when Bruce gives him the evil eye and he hands the mic back. Bruce thanks him by saying “Philly Elvis! I don’t know where the f**k he came from.”

A woman in Denmark talks about how she was touched by seeing Bruce and his wife Patti perform together. Her favorite song is “Red-Headed Woman,” which Bruce wrote about his wife. I’ve never heard it sung live, but I have it on a bootleg. In this case, the director inserts a music clip where Bruce introduces the song with a little lesson on the performance of a certain sex act. I don’t think that’s what the Danish fan intended, but you can find the lyrics here.

A Londoner who is not a fan accompanies his hardcore fan wife to concerts all over Europe. He pleads with Bruce to play shorter concerts.

John, a groundskeeper at the Copenhagen stadium where the band will play, speaks movingly and in a rough-around-the edges style (and in excellent English) about how important Springsteen’s music has been to his life. He’s one of the fans who meets Bruce at the stadium. Bruce recognizes him when he walks in and he takes a leather cuff off his wrist and puts it on John’s. “This a sign of brotherhood,” he says.

My friends asked why I didn’t submit my own video. I did bare my soul about what his music means to me here  and here.

About the time the film was playing in Chicago, Springsteen appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. He was named first in the 50 Greatest Live Acts in 2013. I could have written that myself, after having seen 30-some live concerts. He is an amazing performer and this film gives you  a real sense of how that affects his fans.

Twenty Feet from Stardom

If you’re having a bad day, this would be a great movie to see. And if you’re having a fine day, this will make it even better. Twenty Feet From Stardom is the story of the backup singers who provided the essential background sound for some of the greatest acts in rock and roll history. The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, the Talking Heads, Michael Jackson, Elton John. Several of the singers are profiled in the film and there are many interview clips from the stars they worked with. You’ll see Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and Tata Vega, among others. Most of the backup singers did not succeed as solo acts, despite the incredible quality of their singing voices and performance style. One of them, Darlene Love, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, probably the highest level of success for any of them.

Despite the disappointments of the “20 feet” distance, this is a joyous film. You see the stars performing in their younger days and today when they still love what they do. Most of them came from families with strong church and gospel singing backgrounds and that celebratory sound comes through in every note.

This 90-minute film is playing right now and continues through next week at the Landmark Century Centre in Chicago and at one cinema in Highland Park. (Screen shots above by Nancy Bishop.)

Picasso Baby

This is my lagniappe. It’s an 11-minute video of a song from Jay Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Don’t tell me you don’t like hip hop or Jay Z.  This is a mini concert in which you can see his charm and charisma up close. In the short intro to the film, he talks about a concert being performance art. The smaller the venue, the more the audience affects the performance. This performance was filmed at Pace Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district.

Jay-Z performs Picasso Baby at the Pace Gallery in New York

Photo copyright Uptown Magazine.

The video is about five minutes of Jay Z singing and interacting with a few dozen artists, musicians and fans (only cool-looking fans), one at a time. The first part of the song references art, artists, museums and celebrity but the second, angrier, part talks about crime and punishment. The rest of the film features final comments from the participants, who are identified on screen as they speak or move.

Participants include actor Alan Cumming, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, actor Adam Driver, artist Andres Serrano, performance artist Marina Abramovic, writer Judd Apatow, actors Jemima Kirke and Rosie Perez, and many other familiar faces. Abramovic is the artist who performed “The Artist Is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art. People waited in line for hours to sit in a room with her, while she stared at them. She has an intense, mesmerizing stare, so I can see that this worked.

The song ends with this line: “What’s it gon take for you to see, I’m the modern day Pablo, Picasso, baby.”

Watch Picasso Baby here.

5 Comments on “Movie Night: Springsteen and I, 20 Feet From Stardom, Picasso Baby

  1. ileneonwords says:

    I want to see “20 Feet….” I loved Jay Z’s Picasso Baby!!! Have you see the HBO doc, “Casting By,” it was excellent. Enjoyed your blog. Stop by and visit mine some time! Thanks!


  2. ileneonwords says:

    I love Springsteen and will see “Springsteen & I” as well. Thanks!!!!


  3. […] 20 Feet from Stardom celebrates the backup singers (almost all women) who give rock and roll stars the sound we love. Several singers are profiled in the film, as are many of the musicians they worked with, including Bruce Springsteen. The singers nearly all worked in the background for their entire careers, as my review describes. But nevertheless it’s a great, happy film and now is available on DVD. […]


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