It’s Boss time… The best of Bruce Springsteen in the movies
Bruce Springsteen albums are a bit like birthdays – if you wait around long enough, one will come along. Unlike most birthdays, however, Bruce Springsteen albums are usually pretty brilliant. This month he releases High Hopes, a collection of covers – of his own previous work and other artists’ songs – and unreleased material.
It features his old boogying buddies The E Street Band, including recently deceased former members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, as well as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
Springsteen’s music has always had something of a cinematic air – his stories of disgruntled young couples trying to get out of their mundane towns are not too far removed from the movies.
In turn, filmmakers and TV producers have always been keen to include the Boss in their soundtracks. Indeed, three songs from High Hopes feature in a new episode of TV series The Good Wife, broadcast in the US a few days before the album is officially released this week. However the songs are used in the show, they will have to go some to top the movie moments Springsteen’s music has given us in the examples below.
DANCING IN THE DARK
Scientists have shown that there is only one Bruce Springsteen song that you can dance to, so it’s no surprise that Dancing in the Dark has been used to backdrop some sterling jiving scenes. However, rather than follow the pretty formulaic flow of the song’s original video, featuring a pre-Friends Courteney Cox, the best sequences to feature the hit have been a little more interesting.
Most recently, Dancing in the Dark provided the perfect soundtrack for Ryan Gosling to dance… with his dog. This rare light-hearted moment from The Place Beyond the Pines also gives Gosling’s co-star, the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, the chance to dance to this song the only way grown men can – badly.
Bizarre as it may be to see the biggest Hollywood heartthrob swaying a dog to Bruce, in the superb ’90s indie film Lawn Dogs, a youthful looking Sam Rockwell and an even more youthful looking Mischa Barton rock out to Dancing in the Dark on top of a pick-up. Bruce kicks in at about the 3m30 mark. Ignore the Spanish dubbing. Or, if you understand Spanish, don’t ignore it.
But for the ultimate rendition of Dancing… you have to go to charming documentary Young@Heart, named after the chorus group of US pensioners who sing classic songs at various locations. In this scene, Bruce’s big hit gets aired in a prison and I’m not sure Springsteen himself ever belted it out with as much power.
DRIVE ALL NIGHT / STOLEN CAR
Stallone and Springsteen. It’s a match made in New York/New Jersey heaven, the fitting settings for Cop Land, a film that out-Departed The Departed before Scorsese’s movie even existed. When you live in Jersey, not listening to the Boss is against the law. When you’re a cop in New Jersey, you have to listen to him twice as much, hence Sly gets two Bruce scenes in James Mangold’s brilliant crime drama. Stallone is a fan of The River album, it seems, particularly the second half of it,
Drive All Night (‘I could take you over to the Ramada..’)
Stolen Car (‘you can get this on CD, you know…’)
Like the film that made it famous (Jerry Maguire), Secret Garden may seem merely syrupy at a first pass, but there is something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. The song may appear on an initial listen to be an ode to a longed-for love, but with lyrics like ‘She’ll let you in her mouth’ and ‘She’ll let you deep inside’, there’s clearly something else Bruce is getting at. And as for Jerry Maguire, it’s much more than a maudlin mountain of soundbites – it’s actually quite a dark movie, asking if it’s okay to settle for the one you like rather than love.
All that said, Secret Garden is also ripe fodder for the inevitable Maguire spoof. Take it away, Will Ferrell in A Night at the Roxbury…
Any Bruce fan worth his or her salt will tell you that their least favourite Springsteen song is Hungry Heart (well, okay, Part Man, Part Monkey runs it close). Perhaps it’s the song’s ubiquity that makes it annoying, because Hungry Heart is probably the most movie soundtracked Springsteen track out there.
Or perhaps it’s because it reminds me of Tony Slattery’s arse in Kenneth Branagh’s early ’90s Brit-flick smug-fest, Peter’s Friends…
(Go to 6m40 to see it. If you dare)
But Hungry Heart has been used in some genuinely solid movies. Springsteen is perfect, of course, for Risky Business, a tale of a kid and his love for a car. Oh, and a prostitute.
And it also helps sum up Adam Sandler’s own hungry heart in The Wedding Singer. Yes, Sandler HAS done the odd good movie.
But the best use of Hungry Heart came in last year’s zom-rom-com, Warm Bodies. Falling in love with someone who is alive when you are undead has never seemed so sweet..
ROSALITA (COME OUT TONIGHT)
It must be noted that some absolutely brilliant Springsteen songs have been hurled into some crummy movies, and nowhere is this more evident than in Ben Stiller ‘comedy’ The Heartbreak Kid, a Farrelly brothers remake of a superior 1972 effort with Charles Grodin. In the story, Stiller’s character discovers his new wife may not be all she’s cracked up to be. While the film sucks overall, at least it does Bruce justice with this car-singing scene, proving that if the woman in your life knows the words to classic Springsteen, she’s a keeper. But if she makes you listen to Barry Manilow too, then you might want to have a word.
(Stiller has previous – and even funnier – form when it comes to doing Springsteen)
I’M ON FIRE
In Aussie movie The Hunter, the always watchable Willem Defoe spreads some short-lived cheer by getting the electricity back on, showing that record players will put Springsteen on even if there is no one else around. It’s actually quite a creepy song, and it fits the mood in the scene here perfectly.
There are Springsteen purists who ignore his Human Touch and Lucky Town albums, released on the same day in 1992 and recorded without The E Street Band. And there were many who ignored Lucky You, director Curtis Hanson’s Vegas poker movie with Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, which returned a measly $8m worldwide from a rumoured budget of $55m. Still, the title track of one of those Springsteen albums, while a bit plodding, is a guilty pleasure of mine, and it provides a nice intro to the world of the movie as Bana motorcycles past the bright lights.
RED HEADED WOMAN
Like Lucky You, nobody went to see Romance & Cigarettes, a comedy-musical which saw John Turturro slide from in front of the camera into the director’s chair. Well, more fool them, cos R&C is a perfect little movie, as James Gandolfini’s iron worker two-times his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, with Kate Winslet’s fiery gyrator. The likes of Mandy Moore, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard and Christopher Walken are along for the fun ride, as songs such as Delilah by Tom Jones get a sleazy reworking. And no Bruce song is sleazier than Red Headed Woman (sample lyric: ‘Well, I don’t know how many girls you dated / But you ain’t lived ’til you’ve had your tyres rotated… by a red headed woman’). This sequence is terrific, with the two redheads in question – Sarandon and Winslet – fighting over Gandolfini (even though he requires medical attention after eating too much liquorice), while Walken lip syncroons in the background. Brilliant stuff. On a side note, IMDb’s entry for Romance & Cigarettes says people who like it also liked The Holiday, which could be the biggest lie in movie recommendation history.
One winning tactic with Springsteen in film is to ask him to write a song for your movie, then get the movie’s title in there. So, for Philadelphia, you have Streets of Philadelphia (Springsteen’s only Oscar win. Note how the vocal for the video was recorded live); for Dead Man Walking, you have Dead Man Walkin’ and for The Wrestler, you have The Wrestler (a Golden Globe winning song). Springsteen’s song The Fuse had played over the end credits of Spike Lee’s 25th Hour a few years previously, but in Darren Aronofsky’s film with Mickey Rourke, the same move weaved even more movie magic. The double whammy of Rourke leaping off the top rope in The Wrestler’s final bout, followed by the beginning of Springsteen’s track, can reduce even the most hardened fan of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, The Undertaker et al to big, blubbery tears.
Okay, enough of hearing Springsteen in movies – let’s see him in one. The Boss pops up in Stephen Frears’ brilliant reworking of Nick Hornby’s novel, High Fidelity, giving John Cusack some advice on women. IMDb trivia says Cusack originally wanted Bob Dylan to do the cameo. I’ll just choose not to believe that. High Fidelity features Springsteen track The River, but in this sequence, when Cusack whispers ‘Good luck, goodbye’, he is of course referencing the song Bobby Jean.