A heavy-headed Bruce Springsteen opens ‘Letter to You’, the new documentary film on Apple TV+, with an ode to his long, almost half a century ‘conversation’ with his bandmates and us, the fans. He talks of his need to communicate and that he doesn’t why.
It’s a very sombre and reflective way to open a film about possibly the greatest rock star of all time. Still, it sets the tone for a film that’s deep in emotion, memories, grief and also, celebration and gratefulness.
It should be said that I’m a Springsteen fan. I own several of his LPs on vinyl. More than any other artist, save my all-time favourites, Eels. This is also important in judging my enjoyment of the film. If you’re not a fan of the man, then this isn’t going to be your sort of film.
It should also be said that this is very much an accompanying film to his latest LP, Letter to You. To be fair, that’s the title of the film AND the album so we maybe shouldn’t expect more, and for the most part, what the film does is add more depth and weight to what is already a defining album.
What comes across the most is Bruce’s gratefulness. Grateful for the career he’s had, the people he’s met and most of all the band he’s been able to play with all these years, The E Street Band.
This is the first album where The E Street Band and Bruce have all been together playing in the studio simultaneously since ‘Born To Run’, 25 years ago. So what we really get is like a concert album. We hear all the tracks and see the band playing together as one. As a fan, it’s a fantastic experience.
In between the tracks, Bruce talks about his career growing up, from his start in The Castiles to early albums and phone calls from Bob Dylan. Again, very reflective.
Whether the film is a success depends on what you’re expecting and what you want. If you’re expecting a film that’s going to celebrate the history of Bruce and the E Street Band without going into too much depth, then you’ll be pleased. If you want a profound look into who Bruce is as a person and the troubles and successes along the way, you’ll be a bit disappointed.
However, I don’t think that’s a criticism. It doesn’t try to be anything else than a nostalgic reminisce and celebration of who Bruce and the band are. That being said, Bruce’s introductions to some of the songs add real weight to their meaning (pro-tip: turn on subs during the songs). As a band that’s still hurting from the enormous losses of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, the performance of the song ‘See You in my Dreams’ is particularly heartbreaking. Only adding to that is the sight of producer Jon Landau visibly breaking down while listening back to it.
These people have come a long way and been through a lot.
Closing out the film (over more beautiful shots of snowy New Jersey), Bruce considers how fragile and finite life is and how we only have so much left; how lucky we are to be alive and be able to do what we can do. Bruce Springsteen is someone who has represented the average American throughout his entire career. He’s someone who has sung about the hardships and triumphs of ordinary life: finding a paycheck, finding love, losing love, watching your community struggle around you and the triumphs when people succeed. Even in a film which is essentially an extended version of an album it carries weight. It’s emotional, celebratory, reflective, and most of all, grateful. Oh, and it has some great music.