Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You, 2020.
Directed by Thom Zimny.
Featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Roy Bitton, Nik Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Steven Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charles Giordano, Jake Clemons and Frank Bruno.
Letter to You documents the coming together of Bruce Springsteen and his entire E-Street Band for a recording session. This has not happened since Born In The USA and is a celebration of music, creativity and the enduring power of music to connect people.
Some years ago The Rolling Stones made a documentary which depicted them as insulated, opulent and somewhat detached from reality. Ostentatious surroundings, an oblivious extended family and a business acumen which would put mafia families to shame. Audiences did get to vicariously wander around an archive worth tens of millions in pounds, but the experience was one of separation rather than inclusion. Letter to You is not like that.
From minute one this stripped back documentary focuses on music, rarely deviates on non-essential tangents and feels genuine. Whether you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen or not there is no denying the grounded persona who inhabits this space. For an hour and thirty minutes we are invited to sit in on a recording session for his latest album. A rumination on people past and present which he explores through melody, music and scrapbook memories.
Director Thom Zimny who has worked with Bruce Springsteen for almost two decades, is allowed free rein within this inner sanctum which never feels less than welcoming. A voice over brimming with pathos illuminates inspiration, expands on individual memories and gives the music an unprecedented depth. His band are old friends, their work ethic undeniable and he guides without hierarchy.
Stock footage, sound bites and home movies chart the rise of a young musician who would come to dominate stadiums for decades. His music would shape American culture, be hailed by his peers as peerless and Bruce Springsteen himself would be celebrated. What entices you to watch might be curiosity, but what makes the audience stay is creativity. There is a sense of openness to the collaborative process within this unit, which only comes from familiarity. These songs might belong to him but The Boss absorbs suggestions, shapes arrangements and develops these blueprints in service of the song.
For all those involved the music is everything. This documentary genuinely captures the making of music in its rawest form. At no point is there an indication of the wealth Bruce Springsteen has clearly amassed over his career and no one treats him with an overt degree of deference. More often than not director Thom Zimny is intent on capturing the energy this process creates, both instrumentally and individually through long standing friendships.
By the halfway point these songs underpin a narrative which is a pure rags to riches rise from obscurity, punctuated by poignant missives to past band mates. There is no pretension, no agenda and no lack of sincerity to a film which documents the creative process of this musical legend. For the faithful and unfamiliar alike Letter to You illuminates, illustrates and celebrates what it is about Bruce Springsteen that makes his indelible contributions to music so essential.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★