Toward the end of Springsteen & I, the crowd-sourced panegyric from Bruce Springsteen fans to their beloved Boss, there's a spliced-together performance of "Born to Run" that begins in 1975 and runs up to the ongoing "Wrecking Ball" tour.
Before launching into the song at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, a young, skinny Springsteen tells the crowd: "It was nice being alone with you tonight."
That intro ties in nicely with the premise of the Baillie Walsh-directed movie, in which fans who feel that Bruce sings directly to them share homemade video mash notes, interspersed with performance footage. The movie will play in more than a dozen Philadelphia-area theaters Monday and again on July 30. (For specific theaters go to www.fathomevents.com.)
The movie is essentially made by Springsteen fans, so naturally it's pretty much made for Springsteen fans. Haters need not apply.
Thankfully, though, there is one included in the movie. He's a beleaguered husband from Manchester, England, whose wife has dragged him to capital cities all over Europe to sit through the 3½-hour shows. When asked what he would tell Springsteen, he replies: "Please shorten your concerts." In an amusing denouement, he meets his torturer in a "terrifying" encounter in Copenhagen.
Everyone else in the movie, which is populated by a lower percentage of beer-bellied, gray-haired white guys than you see at Springsteen's U.S. shows (his fan base is much younger in Europe), is devoted to the Boss.
And keen to show their gratitude: A young Asian American woman who works as a long-haul truck driver with hopes to go back to school for a master's degree talks about being riveted to "Atlantic City" while traversing the Arizona desert. When she listens to Springsteen, she says, "I feel like the more physically demanding the work I do is the most important work I can do." Cue up "Factory," from the "Born in the U.S.A." tour.
Springsteen & I is a testament to the power of pop music to weave itself into people's inner lives, to be inextricable from their sense of self. A movie like it could be made on any variety of pop-culture subjects that would look odd to outsiders and make perfect sense to those in the know. Some notable moments in this one belong to a working-class couple who've never been able to afford tickets, and to the Danish fan who treasures the cassette tapes he recorded on his Walkman at a 1988 show when he was 9.
And then there's Nick Ferraro, "the Philly Elvis." (Fans are not identified during the movie, but credited at the end.) At an October 2009 show at the Spectrum, he showed up in his latter-day "fat Elvis" costume and Springsteen pulled him on stage to sing "All Shook Up." Ferraro and his wife, Dorothy, provide commentary to footage of him pulling a hamstring, yet still leading the band in an unplanned "Blue Suede Shoes." Springsteen helps him off, and announces: "Elvis has left the building."
Including a seven-song add-on from a thrilling 2012 concert in Hyde Park in London that featured a Paul McCartney drop-in (before a curfew famously ended the show prematurely), Springsteen & I runs a little long at more than two hours. And charming as they are, many of the homemade videos natter on before they get to the inevitable point: "Bruce is really great, and I just love the guy."
Still, the celluloid rock hero rewards their ardor. And not only with his clenched-jawed, sweat-stained performances. In the final reel, he meets his people.
"Where do you get your energy?" the Boss, who's nearing retirement age, is asked. "I got so much out of music," he replies. "My dream was to play that role in other people's lives."
Springsteen & I *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Baillie Walsh. With Bruce Springsteen. Distributed by National Cinemedia.
Running time: 2 hours, 5 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating
Playing at: area theaters on Monday and on July 30. See list at fathomevents.com.