November 7, 2019 – Western Stars is a kind of visual music album, recorded live in Bruce Springsteen's barn, featuring a steel guitar, a song about Nashville and lots of references to the American Southwest, and the unique American tension between individualism and the desire to join a community.
The film is directed by Springsteen (along with Thom Zimny) who also wrote all the music except for the final song, Glen Campbell's 1975 hit song, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (written by Larry Weiss). Each song on the Western Stars album is performed live in the film, and each song is set up with a short video narrated by Springsteen explaining the inspiration for each song and how it relates to his life.
The film, and songs, are arranged around a central character, a Hollywood stunt man and rodeo cowboy who lives in California, reflecting back on his life and career, often regretting some of the choices he has made. Springsteen talks about his own life choices as well — how he has fought to overcome his inner demons. His wife, Patti Scialfa, stands next to him, singing and playing her guitar, on most of the songs. There is a bit about them as a couple in the film.
One reason given for filming this concert in a barn is that Springsteen wanted an orchestra, made up of 30 musicians (lots of strings) along with a keyboard and electric guitars in the concert, and this is a big enough barn to hold them all (with Springsteen's horses below on the ground level). There are numerous shots of Springsteen with horses and cars driving through a desert landscape (reportedly shot near Joshua Tree National Park).
The videos between the 14 songs in the film feature photos and videos from Springsteen's life and music career. The songs, influenced by songwriters such as Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb often focus on love and loss. There are songs about missed opportunities, about running away and chances not taken. Springsteen talks about growing up in the 1950s, when cowboy shows ruled TV programming, informing the western theme of his film.
The soaring sounds of orchestral strings dominate many of the songs, but a keyboard and steel guitar also take center stage at times. The film does not focus on individual musicians during the songs, except during one brilliant violin solo, and, of course, Springsteen and Patti Scialfa.
The film includes a discussion of Springsteen's emergence as a multi-faceted artist, now that he is a successful film director, to go with his Tony Award-winning Broadway show and his autobiography (called, of course, “Born to Run”). This movie is as much about Springsteen the man, as it is about Springsteen, the performer. This film rates a B. When I saw this film in a local theater, it was followed by a short second feature about how the film was made.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.