Bruce Springsteen fans are well-versed in the singer-songwriter’s creed. His music is often rooted in a quest for meaning, pulling from his own experiences in loss, love and lore of the American road. He’s viewed by his peers as the ultimate storyteller, an accolade the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer earns once again in his directorial debut, Western Stars, out Friday.
Springsteen teamed up with his longtime collaborator and fellow New Jersey native, filmmaker Thom Zimny, on the movie, in which the icon performs all 13 songs from his latest album alongside his wife Patti Scialfa and a 30-piece backing orchestra. The concert takes place inside the house that Bruce built — not Met Life Stadium where he’s performed dozens of four-hour rock shows, but quite literally his home, the renovated barn on his family’s property in Colts Neck, New Jersey, which has been converted into a haven for hosting loved ones.
Beautifully woven between each track is Springsteen’s own narration about the inspiration behind his new material. In addition, he unpacks the “destructive parts” of his character, accompanied by spectacular footage of the American West, including California’s Joshua Tree National Park. We also see Springsteen, who turned 70 on Sept. 23, dressing the part of a rock-star-meets-vagabond, donning denim-on-denim, a well-worn Stetson hat and a handful of turquoise rings — a shift from the all-black he sports during the film’s central concert.
“We knew weren’t going to tour with the band so I was looking for a way to help my audience access my new music,” Springsteen shared at the New York City screening of Western Stars. “So we decided we’d film the concert and after that we added things to it and it turned into a piece of cinema.”
The film is yet another platform Springsteen utilizes to reach his audience. After the release of his New York Times bestselling memoir in Born to Run in 2016, Springsteen turned to Broadway to tell his story live six nights a week, earning himself a Tony nomination and some serious industry cred (not that he was lacking).
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He says that tackling the big screen felt like the next logical step in his progression as an artist.
“You’re always looking for a fresh way to continue the conversation with your audience and the past five years have been some of the most creative years of my life,” Springsteen told PEOPLE. “I’ve had the book, I had the play, now we have the film and the album. It’s really been a good creative period. And to turn 70 and to feel like you’re at the top of the game is really satisfying.”
At the heart of the film is Springsteen’s lifetime collaborator and musical partner, Scialfa, who performs 12 of the 13 songs with him on their barn stage. It also reads as a love letter to his wife of 28 years, cemented by the inclusion of their own home movies — including footage from their honeymoon at Yosemite National Park.
“I was surprised to see our honeymoon tapes in there,” Scialfa said at the N.Y.C. screening. “That was very sweet because I hadn’t seen it in 20-something years. All the little pictures of us out in the national parks.”
Zimny, Springsteen’s co-director and producer on the film, revealed that the honeymoon inclusion was the ultimate highlight.
“My favorite part of the movie is something Bruce and Patti shot — it’s their honeymoon footage,” he shared at the event. “As a filmmaker, you look for these magical moments. It’s ironic that after all the cameras and all the beauty of shooting the film, the magic came from a home movie.”
As for what the collaborators hope to achieve with the movie, their aims are humble.
“It’s the kind of film where a couple might come in together and by the end of it they’re holding hands,” Zimny says. “It has a lot of themes, it has a lot of beauty in its writing and the voiceover gives a powerful understanding to this exciting new music.”