MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Blinded by the Light is being marketed as “inspired by a true story and the words and music of Bruce Springsteen”. Since I have been a fan of Springsteen since his very first album in 1972 (my wife likes him, too) we were excited to attend an early “fan event” preview showing at our local multiplex. There were four in attendance, including us.
I hope that younger audiences will discover the joys of Blinded by the Light in spite of possible indifference to the music of “The Boss” (Springsteen is now an elder statesman of rock at the age of 69).
The film is set in the late 1980s and based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s (his character is named Javed in the film) teenage memoir Greetings from Bury Park. The book told the story about how discovering the poetry of Bruce Springsteen helped him (as a British-Pakistani Muslim living in Luton, England) rise above feeling like an outcast. Things weren’t going very well for Javed (Kalra); his entire family struggled to make enough money to maintain their modest home. His dad (Ghir) worked hard at a local GM plant for 16 years but lost his job through downsizing and had a hard time competing with the hundreds of other unemployed workers during the years of austerity in Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed creates poetry and hopes to attend college to become a writer, but his father wants him to focus on more practical things like mathematics and science. After all, with the great class divide in England; why dream about something so far out of reach? (Or to quote Springsteen, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”)
One day during his first year in Stage 4 High School Javed meets Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh classmate who has his own problems with racism but has found inspiration from the words of Bruce Springsteen, whose songs are based in the working-class town of Asbury Park, New Jersey and deal honestly with some tough subjects, such as desperation and the desire to break free from the ties that bind. As Javed listens on his Walkman to the two cassettes that Roops lends him, he soon finds something to write about. He submits an essay to the school newspaper about Springsteen and also receives encouragement from a caring English teacher (Hayley Atwell) who recognizes his gifts. The songs inspire Javed to reconsider his own poetry and to connect with Eliza, a social activist girl (Nell Williams) that he fancies.
It’s a familiar enough story but (to its credit) the movie doesn’t sugarcoat the problems of race, class and poverty. The anti-immigrant violence in the film sadly echoes some of the white supremacist rallies of our time. But the release and empowerment that comes to Javed as he connects with this music is joyful and liberating. I especially enjoyed the imaginative way that writer-director Chadha stages a couple of songs, with a particular standout being “Born to Run”, a song-length musical montage that references both The Breakfast Club and The Sound of Music.
I have read other critics that claim you don’t have to love Springsteen to enjoy Blinded by the Light. I’m not so sure; there’s a lot of Springsteen in this movie. (Do people who don’t like ABBA buy tickets to Mama Mia?) But if you were ever emboldened by music that spoke to you when you felt lost and needed something to remind you that you weren’t alone (the Psalms do that for some people), you should be able to identify with Javed and enjoy this lovely little film.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A likeable coming-of-age story with a musical soundtrack.
Three pitchforks: Strong racism, occasional swearing, implied offscreen sexual activity, brief scenes of violence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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