Friday, August 31, 2012

Springsteen on Film: Best Uses of Bruce Songs in the Movies

As illustrated in our post on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bruce has had a major impact on cinema through his music, lyrics and iconography. In fact, whole movies have been made based on his songs (The Indian Runner - inspired by “State Trooper”). And in turn, films have had a large impact on Bruce’s music - The Grapes of Wrath and Badlands being the most frequently cited.

This week we're highlighting uses of songs that were not originally written for the movie (which leaves out Philadelphia, Dead Man Walking and The Wrestler):

"The Fuse" in 25th Hour (2002) - Spike Lee's portrait of a convicted drug dealer's last few days of freedom is also a heavy meditation on the aftermath of 9/11. In a film whose parts are more than its whole, the film's lengthy fantasy-tinged coda is a heartbreaker. When Bruce's "The Fuse" (off The Rising) kicks in over the end credits it's both a reprieve from the tension and a continuation of the film's central themes and 9/11 backdrop.

“Out in the Street” and “Drive All Night” in Reign Over Me (2007) – Another film where 9/11 plays a major plot point in this drama about a 9/11 widower played by Adam Sandler trying to move on with his life through the help of an old friend played by Don Cheadle. This movie shows both sides of the Springsteen spectrum as “Out in the Street” scores a joyful jam session between friends while the painful “Drive All Night” is later used as a conduit for Sandler to confront the reality of his tragic loss. Sandler is clearly a large Springsteen fan as Bruce’s songs also appear in Bedtime Stories, Big Daddy and The Wedding Singer.

"I'm on Fire" in No Looking Back (1998) - This minor melodrama from Edward Burns was his third film and probably his least commercially successful (which is really saying something). It is a love triangle set during the winter on the Jersey Shore starring Burns, Lauren Holly and Jon Bon Jovi but ironically featuring three Bruce Springsteen tunes. Of particular note is the use of "I'm on Fire" to score a barroom afternoon tryst between Holly and Burns (the film's villain). The DVD is out of print but it’s on Netflix Instant Watch. The scene perfectly uses Bruce's blend of soul and threat.

"Secret Garden" in Jerry Maguire (1996) - Despite common misconception, this song was not actually written for the movie. It was released the previous year on the Greatest Hits album. Even so, the song is so closely tied to the movie (for better or for worse) that it feels unfair to put it on this list. If you're able to distance yourself from the song's "You Complete Me" Pop 40 association and rewatch the actual scene where Tom Cruise and Renee Zellwegger meet in the dark suburban street on their first date, you might just fall in love with the song all over again.

"The River" in High Fidelity (2000) - This is actually a scene where I'm not a big fan of the use of Springsteen. The film is based on my favorite book and features the only Bruce Springsteen appearance on film. Yet I can't warm to the movie. To reflect on his top five break-ups, the narrator puts on “The River”. But it isn’t used to punctuate the sequence as effectively as it could be from a cinematic perspective. I'm also not certain “The River” is the right choice even though it’s the most popular sad Springsteen song. But hey, it's still "The River" so it's great to hear it in a film anyway.

"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" in The Heartbreak Kid (2007) - This Farrelly Brothers bomb is underappreciated not only for frankly how bizarre and peculiar a film it is, but also for its use of “Rosalita”. Early on, the film features “Rosalita" as Ben Stiller and his new bride, Malin Ackerman, drive down to Mexico on their honeymoon. The energy and youthful enthusiasm of the song underscores the couple's headfirst dive into marriage and their inability to sing the lyrics to the song hints at their incompatibility. But enough film school analysis, the song rocks! It's great driving music and the scene makes light of Bruce's occasional incoherence. In the DVD audio commentary the Farrelly Brothers remark how they'd been trying to get Springsteen’s music into their films for years. My kind of filmmakers!

"Tunnel of Love" in Walk on Water (2004) - An Israeli drama about a conflicted Mossad agent was one of the last places I expected to hear a Bruce Springsteen song but low and behold they play “Tunnel of Love” and reference Springsteen by name. During a long drive, the lead character puts in a Springsteen CD as an attempt to create a bond with a German character. And it works! Proof that Bruce really is universal.

“Lucky Town” in Lucky You (2007) – Eric Bana riding a motorcycle through the streets of Las Vegas with “Lucky Town” blasting on the soundtrack. Is there any better formula for an opening credits sequence? I must admit the first time I saw the movie, I didn’t even realize it was a Bruce Springsteen song. I instantly started tapping my toes and thought, “This movie knows its country music.” To my embarrassment, it wasn’t until I read the New York Times’ review that I realized it was Bruce. I’ve since thought of Lucky Town as Bruce’s most rockabilly album and the title song has become one of my favorites.

“This Land is Your Land” in Food, Inc. (2008) – I find that the majority of politicized documentaries spend plenty of time exposing issues but no time offering solutions. Food, Inc. is a rare exception that gives tangible suggestions on how we can all work to change the health and safety of the food industry. Playing Springsteen’s live version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” over the end credits makes the call to action that much stronger.

The picks above are all from the past fifteen years. This is partly because Springsteen’s songs have had an increased cinematic presence during this time period and also because some of the more prevalent uses in the 1980s like Baby It’s You and Light of Day are harder to track down today. These links on IMDB and Wikipedia are a helpful guide to finding films featuring Springsteen's music but both lists are incomplete. Are there any notable uses that haven’t been mentioned? Do you have a favorite Springsteen moment in cinema?


  1. How about Valentine's Day?

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