Bruce Springsteen is one of the most quintessential American musicians, a man whose ability to capture the soul of America transcends the boundaries of race, class, gender, and time. Frankly, there’s a reason why he’s called The Boss. His natural talent for storytelling and seeming sight into every corner of America has made his tracks exemplary tenants of numerous movie soundtracks for decades. But his songs are filled with such interesting narratives, character insights, and locales that many of them would make good movies in their own right. So in celebration of his 66th birthday, here are five Bruce Springsteen songs that should be movies:
5. “Brilliant Disguise”
“Brilliant Disguise” tells the story of a recently married man facing anxiety about whether he really knows the woman he married and if he really knows himself. Obviously the thriller route would be easy, but I think a film adaptation could go the more poignant dramatic route while delivering something that hasn’t been seen before. I see this as a post-marital story that spans the seasons of this couple’s first year together. The couple is played by different actors playing the same characters, but each performance unveils new elements of the person that their spouse doesn’t know. Imagine facing a stranger every few days and the constant shock and acceptance (think the end of Enemy). I’d like to see Todd Haynes deliver this one.
4. “Atlantic City”
This track from Springsteen’s first acoustic album, Nebraska, tells the story of a young man’s decision to join the mob after his inability to get an honest job. He meets his girlfriend on the boardwalk and laments the inevitability of death. I see this as a film taking place in two timelines–one during the height of Atlantic City during the age of prohibition and the other set in the not too distant future after the utter collapse of the American economy. The two narratives will echo each other, following Springsteen’s line of “everything that dies someday comes back.” In the first timeline, the young man dies before ever rising through the ranks to become an important figure in Atlantic City. In the second timeline, the two lovers die together under the boardwalk, the very edge of a dying country. I’m pretty taken with Scott Cooper’s ability to contrast brilliance with squalor, so he’s my pick to tell this story.
3. “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
It should come as no surprise that Springsteen’s identification with social activism saw him take inspiration from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. For the film, I picture a post-apocalyptic landscape where The Grapes of Wrath is handed down as a historical work of non-fiction, biblical in nature. Tom Joad is viewed as a new messiah, a promised one who delivers the people from their unfortunate circumstances of poverty and disease. The narrative is told in a collage of different narratives, each one offering insight to our own present-day landscape of poverty and religion. As for a director? I can’t think of a better pairing than Springsteen and Terrance Malick.
2. “American Skin (41 Shots)”
Inspired by the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, Springsteen’s song tackles racial profiling and police brutality in America. He later played the song at concerts following the shooting of Trayvon Martin and he dedicated the song to him after George Zimmerman received the not guilty verdict. For the film, I don’t want to stray far from the explicit meaning of the song. We’ve seen films tackle instances of police violence, murder, and racial profiling against people of color, but I want to see a film that tackles the larger issues that face the country: the systematic abuse of justice that stretches from the streets to the courthouses. I want Ava DuVernay’s unflinching focus on this film.
1. “Because the Night”
Springsteen originally wrote and recorded the song for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but unsatisfied with doing another love song, he gave it to Patti Smith who re-wrote everything except the chorus. Springsteen would later perform his version of the song at concerts in the following years. I can’t finish this list without including one idea for a horror film. I see this as a subtle atmospheric horror story that doubles as a love story. Imagine a world beset by vampires and an aging couple struggles to survive the night in the wilderness. But this isn’t a creature feature. In fact, the vampires will never be seen, but their presence will be felt in the dark. As a whole, I see this story as a metaphor for love and commitment in the looming shadow of old age and death, and the fear of a spouse leaving before you. If Ana Lily Amirpour isn’t opposed to dealing with vampires again, I’d love to see her direct.
Featured Image: Bruce Springsteen