By John H. Foote
Something happens when one discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. It is as though some of his lyrics are being whispered to you, intimately almost in your ear, spoken just for you. My younger brother Steve brought Springsteen to us, but I never caught on until five years later. I liked the songs but did not feel they spoke to me.
I was not listening.
It was finally his song “Bobbie Jean” that hit me deep in my soul. It was about two years after the break up of my high school/ college girlfriend, and we went for dinner together. Gone was the anger, the rage I had felt, replaced by a sense of being grateful she had been in my life, for how she had shaped me as a person. We had grown up together, and I suppose shaped each other into who we became. She believed in me like no one ever had had and I wanted a chance to say “I miss you baby, good luck goodbye…”. From that moment on I have loved his music, not to the extent of obsession my brother has, but his music speaks to me, perhaps because we are blue-collar children who grew to be artists, who knows?
This wonderful new film, exploding with energy and a deep love of The Boss is refreshing and fun, and surprising.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a teenage Pakistani youth living in a drab housing complex on the wrong side of the tracks in London, England. It is 1987, his father has worked in a factory for sixteen years, struggling to get ahead, to have food on the table, and is suddenly out of work. To Javed, his father’s goal seems to be to crush his dreams, to take away any hope Javed has about the future. Though Javed writes poetry, he hides it, ashamed it is worthless, that it is not contributing to life.
Bored, frustrated, he is terrified his life will mirror that of his father.
Then one day, a friend hands him some music by Bruce Springsteen. Slipping on the headphones, you can see the electric charge of discovery surge through Javed as he hears music that speaks to him, that tells him what he believed. “There’s something happening somewhere” Springsteen sings in his driving despairing Dancing in the Dark. The music of the blue-collar rocker ignites a spark in Javed, and he becomes obsessed with the Boss.
The music alters Javed, giving him the courage to ask out a girl, to share his poetry, but more importantly, to dream, to hope. It is as though his very soul was locked in synch with the vibrant, beating heart of Springsteen’s music. Obsessed with Springsteen, he cuts the sleeves off his shirts, assuming a new identity, even speaking in Springsteen lyrics.
Blinded By the Light is a lovely, deeply earnest film that is at the same time a superb rock and roll fable. Oh yes, the cliches abound, especially the father-son story, which mirrors that of the Boss and his own father. Yet it works, it all works.
Viveik Kalra is terrific as our hero, capturing the very awakening of a soul right before our eyes. The wide-eyed innocence with which he makes his pilgrimage to New Jersey is breathtaking, seeing the sights that inspired the songs that have become his religion.
As Springsteen evolved as an artist, his lyrics became more socially aware, speaking to the conscious that is America. You can see those lyrics working their magic on Javed, just as they did the rest of the world. Is there a greater poet in rock and roll? No, I think not. When he tears into a song with that rumbling voice, the ground beneath us quakes with the raw power that is Bruce. Refreshing to know so many others in the most unlikely places also rode that road shaken with thunder.
Yes it is cliched, yes perhaps we have seen films like this before, but it was made with such heart, for everyone looking for “something happening somewhere” and those. Those breathtaking lyrics teach Javed that all tramps can dream, and all of us, “Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run”.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”