News Column

Bruce fans on Bruce: Fan-made documentary screens tonight at area theaters

July 22, 2013

YellowBrix

July 22--IT'S EASY to dismiss the mania that fans share for a pop star, especially when the musician sings about giddy teenage love and fades to obscurity after a lunchtime of fame.

But the bonds of love and devotion that tie deep-thinking rocker Bruce Springsteen with his fans grow tighter with the years. And as asserted in a heartening new, fan-sourced documentary, "Springsteen and I," screening tonight and July 30 at area theaters, this relationship is quite the mutual-admiration-and-support society.

We give him our ears, our faith, our bucks, our chants of "Brooooooooooce."

In song and vision, he gives us respect and perspective. He renews our courage and will to carry on, even against long odds.

These testimonials come fast and furious in "Springsteen and I," a scrapbook shot mostly by fans on smartphones and video cameras.

"A film like this couldn't have been made a few years ago," shared director Baillie Walsh recently. "We put out the word last November via Springsteen fan sites and Twitter that we were looking for short videos answering the question, 'What does Springsteen mean to you?' "

Producer Svana Gisla tweeted, "We are searching for a wide variety of creative interpretations. . . . If you have a parent, a sibling, a neighbor or a colleague who has an interesting tale, we want to know about them. If you can't use a camera or are not sure how to capture your story, then get in touch and we will link you up with someone who can."

In short order, Walsh said, the crew amassed "more than 2,000 responses, 3,000 hours of video."

But first, the production earned the full endorsement of Springsteen and his managers, Jon Landau and Barbara Carr, after showing them a 2010 crowd-sourced documentary, "Life in a Day." Like this venture, "Life" was backed by filmmaker Ridley Scott's production company.

Adding immensely to the film are appropriate bites and full (or mosaically fused) Springsteen performances of gems like "Born To Run," "Mansion on the Hill," "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Blood Brothers," snared from the artist's archives.

Much of this rough stuff was shot for onetime "house video" (in-theater) concert use. Now it fits perfectly in this verging-on-home-video and otherwise homey context, agreed Walsh, who previously shepherded a documentary of Oasis, "Lord Don't Slow Me Down."

It was shot, he recalled, "at a good time when the Gallagher brothers were still happy to be touring together."

School of Springsteen

The vast majority of "150 or so" appreciators featured in the Bruce documentary only get to slip in a word or three to describe their feelings for Springsteen. But that leaves room for a deep dive into several of the most interesting respondents and their stories.

A pensive young truck driver named Kitty (maybe not even alive when Springsteen recorded "Kitty's Back") is one of the documentary's sweetest stars. She explains how listening to Springsteen odes to the "working life" while she's behind the wheel gives her a sense of worth.

To one of several international contributors, an Israeli named Roy, Bruce's vision of "Growin' Up" and surviving in "Jungleland" made the music man the next best thing to the Wizard of Oz. "He taught me to be a man and a decent man."

Walsh says he focused intentionally on "smaller stories," avoiding the many testimonials about Springsteen's kind gestures after disasters like the World Trade Center bombing.

"All the people he called personally who'd lost relatives, all the people he invited to gigs and helped through it. There were really touching stories, but it was almost turning Bruce into a godlike figure. I didn't want that. This is a much gentler portrait, more accessible."

Philly Elvis

In several of the most magical moments of "Springsteen and I," we do bear witness to the Boss' generosity in sharing the spotlight. Say, reliving the impromptu jam he did with a street busker in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Or, right here in our town, inviting a jumpsuited Elvis Presley impersonator onstage at one of the final Spectrum shows to knock out "All Shook Up" and "Blue Suede Shoes" with the E Street Band.

"I'd been doing my show as 'Lou Ferraro's Tribute to Elvis' since 1986, but since that night -- Oct. 19, 2009 -- I've been 'The Philly Elvis,' " said the South Philadelphia-raised, now Harrisburg-based Ferraro in a chat after a recent preview screening.

"That's what Bruce called me on the stage: Philly Elvis. That's how the radio DJs and Reader's Digest and Backstreets magazine [the Springsteen fanzine] would refer to me afterward, how the YouTube videos would be posted. So that's what I've become."

And yes, people hire or come to see Philly Elvis perform, "just because" of that night, he allowed.

A Springsteen fan "since my freshman year [1975] in high school," Ferraro first communed with the Boss in concert at the Spectrum "the night John Lennon died, Dec. 8, 1980."

Ferraro believes fame and circumstance haven't changed the man a bit, though they've yet to meet offstage. "He's been consistent for years. He preaches brotherhood. We're all equal -- black, white, brown or orange. He always comes out in boots and denim and rolled-up sleeves. There's a reason for that. Whether you're a musician, a street cleaner or a white-collar business man, you have to work hard. And we're all in this together."

That's one reason Ferraro recommends seeing the film in a theater and not waiting for the probable, as yet unannounced, home-video release. "You need to experience it with other Springsteen fans, feel the community, the sense of celebration," he said. "Otherwise, you're missing the boat."

"Springsteen and I" plays at 7:30 tonight and July 30 at select area theaters. Tickets are $15. Nick Ferraro will be at the second showing at the UA Riverview Plaza Stadium 17. Details at fathomevents.com.

Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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(c)2013 the Philadelphia Daily News

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