In Bruce Springsteen documentary, the fans speak

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Bruce Springsteen in concert. (Jo Lopez/Shore Fire Media)

Documentaries about musicians, comedians and other performers have often included segments in which the fans declaim their love of the artist in question, and online outlets allow for even more spontaneous expression. You can find, for instance, ample numbers of tributes to the late Cory Monteith on YouTube.

In such videos, affection is evident, memories presented, life changing averred — and good causes sometimes taken up in honor of a star. So how much you want to see a big-screen documentary about Bruce Springsteen fans depends not so much on your expectation of a new kind of film, but on how much you care about Spring­steen — whether, in the stories fans tell, you see an emotional connection akin to your own.

The documentary is Springsteen and I, and it will be in movie theaters under the Fathom Events banner on Monday and on July 30, at 7:30 p.m. each day. Area theaters with Monday’s showing include Cinemark Tinseltown USA in Jackson Township, Cinemark 15 in Macedonia, Cinemark at Valley View and Cinemark 14 in Mansfield. July 30 theaters include Severance Stadium 14 in Cleveland Heights and Crocker Park Stadium 16 in Westlake, both of which will also have Monday shows. Tickets are available through the theaters and www.fathomevents.com.

The production was assembled from some 2,000 fans’ video contributions about the Boss, from simple thank-yous, to explanations of how songs resonated in their lives, to personal encounters. (Among those: An Elvis imitator who got to sing with Springsteen, and a woman who got to re-create Courteney Cox’s Dancing in the Dark video role when Springsteen performed the song in concert.)

The praise comes from people around the world, and some close to home, including Geri Castor of Youngstown, Savanna Brown of Elyria and Ronald Shoda of Wickliffe.

The comments are interwoven with footage of Springsteen from across a 40-year career, capped by a montage of clips forming a Springsteen performance of a single song. The presentation will also include unreleased performance highlights from the Wrecking Ball tour’s stop at the London Hard Rock Calling festival in June, and a behind-the-scenes fan meet-and-greet with Springsteen.

Why Springsteen? I can speak only as a fan of his work — the kind of fan who still pays attention to his music, who has a couple of, uh, unauthorized vinyl releases of ’70s concerts, and who considered it an important bonding experience to take his sons to see Springsteen in Cleveland some years ago.

But as is evident in the documentary, Springsteen is not only someone who makes memorable music but who believes that the music can serve a purpose beyond commercial success. Who can pay tribute to the folk ways of the activist-singer Pete Seeger, detail the troubles of Youngstown, make art from his reactions to 9/11 and, in these difficult and divided times, defiantly proclaim that “wherever this flag is flown,” we the people take care of our own.

Of course, a declaration like that can be misinterpreted (as was Born in the USA, a lament whose chorus was too often treated like a celebration). And he does not pretend to reach out to everyone with his beliefs. American Skin (41 Shots), originally about police shooting an unarmed man in New York, took on different resonance in more recent performances. According to his official website, a rendition at a concert about a week ago was preceded by Springsteen saying, “We’ll send this as a letter back home for justice for Trayvon Martin.”

But it’s statements like that, whether you agree with them or not, which show there’s no “shut up and sing” to this guy. Nor is he a political late bloomer; the Springsteen exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago included a poster for a performance on behalf of presidential contender George McGovern in 1972.

And it’s his sincerity and intensity, his belief not only in a better America but a better world, that makes something like Springsteen and I worth watching.

While you might do a similar movie about other artists, Springsteen just as thoroughly deserves one.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio,com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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