' ' Cinema Romantico: Imagining the Movie Aura of a 'Young Bruce Springsteen'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Imagining the Movie Aura of a 'Young Bruce Springsteen'

After Frank Vincent died last week, I visited his IMDb page to happily remind myself of all the memorable parts he played, but I confess that what most caught my eye was the entry right at the top, which was a movie scheduled for release in 2018, a movie listed as being in “pre-production”, which means who knows if it will actually even see the light of day? But man, the title and the description were one of those potent IMDb tractor beams that grabbed hold of me and would not let go. The movie is called, ahem, “Asbury Park”, and its description goes like this……

“Hot summer nights, neon lights, hot rods, an upcoming kid known locally as ‘The Boss’ and rock n roll filled the air in 1974 Asbury Park NJ.”

Woah. As an avowed E Street Disciple, that took my breath away. 1974 would place “Asbury Park” at that period between Springsteen’s second and third album, which is to say right before “Born to Run” catapulted him to mega-stardom. Of course, still being a true blue working musician at that point, he was out on tour much of 1974 and away from the boardwalk, which is what the cast list seems to suggest, placing heavy-hitters like Joe Pesci and Ron Perlman and the late Vincent near the top and Mike Rocket Wuertle as “Young Bruce Springsteen” way down near the bottom.

When I told my girlfriend about this, I initially misunderstood and thought no Springsteen had been listed in the cast, leading her to suggest something like Waiting For (Bruce) Guffman, which would have been pretty good. Still, Young Bruce’s placement so far down the cast list suggests something like a cameo, his aura more crucial to the landscape than his actual presence, which is fine, probably the best idea given the towering place Springsteen holds in the culture. And so we wondered, how would “Asbury Park” deploy Young Bruce Springsteen? We concocted some theories by using older movies as reference points.

Possible Cinematic Prototypes for Asbury Park’s “Young Bruce Springsteen”

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ 2013 film set amidst the 1961 New York City folk scene concludes with its titular, problematic troubadour seeing some no-name newbie take the stage at the Gaslight Café. That newbie, seen only in silhouette, possesses the unmistakable croak of Bob Dylan, saying hello as an incredulous yet curious Llewelyn is made to say “au revoir.” Now I keep picturing “Asbury Park” concluding with the spectral image of a Young Bruce whispering “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” as the movie ends (“for me this boardwalk life is through”), which is a wholly unfair thing to place on a movie in pre-production, but still, my God, reader, can’t you see it? CAN’T YOU SEE IT?

Streets of Fire

Walter Hill’s “Rock & Roll Fable” opens in its mystical time & place with Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and the Attackers putting musical pedal to the metal for “Nowhere Fast”, a Jim Steinman penned mind-blistering opus, arguably the film’s highpoint, definitely the film’s musical highpoint. And so what if “Asbury Park” didn’t close with Young Bruce but opened with him, setting the tone by tearing through, say, “Kitty’s Back”, and saying greetings from Asbury Park while re-familiarizing all of America with that enchantingly brief period when The Boss was as much Latin Jazz as Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Based on Ben Fountain’s novel, the title refers to a halftime performance at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game by Destiny’s Child, including Beyoncé, that also involves a squad of war heroes. The movie generally left me cold, aside from the halftime sequence itself, but I cherished the book, and I really cherished how Fountain considered Beyoncé from his protagonist’s point-of-view…“She inhabits some far distant astral plane.” Indeed. So you could go that way with Bruce, showing him but not really, a shooting star passing just overhead.

Grand Hotel

MGM’s 1932 Oscar Best Picture winner has become a sort of shorthand for a movie that features several stories with different characters taking place in one locale. So, several months after the city’s famed Stone Pony opened, Bruce played it for the first time in September 1974, right as summer was winding down, a perfect metaphor for, well, anything! Life! Love! Loss! Details of this show are hazy, so maybe that would make it just right, a chance to imagine it as it might have been, and as it might have been leading up to it, with myriad characters cajoling and scheming in and around the Stone Pony until Young Bruce Springsteen takes the stage and, for a night, sets their souls free.

American Graffiti

In George Lucas’s Americana legend, music emanating from car radios was as equally important as characters, and that music was broadcast and accentuated by dee jay Wolfman Jack, constantly heard but only seen once, near the end, more apparition than person. So in “Asbury Park” it might only make sense for Springsteen’s then-songbook to become a melodic supporting character, heard from radios in cars and through open apartment windows and in the background of club-set shots. And Young Bruce will finally appear toward the end, shuffling along the boardwalk with his hands in his pockets, approached by the main character and asked to dispense the meaning of life to which Young Bruce replies “Beats me” before laughing that unforgettable wheezy Bruce laugh.

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