COLTS NECK, N.J. — “Ahh, it’s early!” Shortly after 9:30 on a warm autumn morning, Bruce Springsteen walks into the cozy kitchen-sitting area of Thrill Hill, the recording studio nestled into a corner of his Monmouth County farm. “For the first interview of my 70s, it’s early!”
A few days after turning 70, Springsteen looks tan and fit as he settles into a leather slingback chair, stretches his arms and runs his hands through brush-cut hair the color of steel shavings. This is the same room where “Western Stars,” a movie based on his recent album of the same name, was in postproduction over the summer, with co-director Thom Zimny editing at a nearby dining table as he listened to Springsteen working on the score in the next room. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; it opens in theaters on Oct. 25.
Springsteen makes his feature directing debut with “Western Stars,” sharing a credit with Zimny and making official a fact that has been obvious to anyone who’s ever listened closely to his music: Bruce Springsteen — singer, songwriter, rock star, consummate showman, American icon — has always been a filmmaker. Whether in the form of widescreen, highly pitched epics or low-budget slices of daily life, Springsteen’s records have been less aural than immersive, unspooling with cinematic scope, drive and pictorial detail. Phil Spector might have built a wall of sound, but Springsteen used sound to build worlds.
He greets the suggestion that he’s an auteur with one of his frequent self-effacing chuckles. But Springsteen admits that a cinematic point of view came naturally to him. “Movies have always meant a lot to me,” he says in his familiar rasp. “It’s probably just a part of being a child of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, when there was so much great filmmaking.”
He grew up in a blue-collar, Irish Italian family at a time when the local bijou was still a vital community hub. “The Strand Theatre in Freehold, N.J., was dead in the center of town,” he recalls. “It was your classic old, small-town movie theater. Its main attraction was, ‘Come on in, it’s cool inside.’ ”
He laughs again.
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