Blinded by the Light
by writer/director/producer Gurinder Chadha
Bruce Springsteen is a true Superhero.
When I was a young student in London, I had a summer job in the record department at Harrods. One day a fellow staff member asked me if I liked Bruce Springsteen. I was into Soul and Reggae and hadn’t heard Bruce’s music. He showed me an album cover of ‘Born To Run’ which featured Bruce laughing and embracing Clarence Clemons, his brilliant saxophonist. The image struck me because it was so warm and intimate and I’d never really seen a band with black and white members together (except KC and the Sunshine Band). I listened to the album and it ignited a lifelong love affair with Bruce’s music.
Many years later I read an article by the journalist Sarfraz Manzoor about what Bruce meant to him. It was thrilling to meet another British Asian Bruce fan and we bonded over our mutual admiration of the Boss.
Sarfraz sent me the galleys of his memoir before it was published and asked me if I thought it could be a film. I could immediately see how I could turn it into a film by focusing on the period when Sarfraz first discovered Bruce as a teenager and how his music taught him to find his voice and transcend what was expected of him growing up in a traditional family in Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Luton.
In 2010, I took Sarfraz to a premiere at the British Film Institute of The Promise, the incredible documentary about Bruce writing the songs for album ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ during his period where he was standing up to his record label.
That night, Bruce walked up to Sarfraz and said he’d read his memoir and it was beautiful. Sarfraz began to hyper-ventilate, shocked that his hero had actually read his book, and I knew it was my moment to tell Bruce about our desire to turn the memoir into a film. I introduced myself as the director of Bend It Like Beckham and said we wanted to make the film but we’d need his support to use his music. Bruce smiled and said, ‘Sounds good, talk to Jon.’ Jon is Jon Landau, his long-time manager, and from that day we stayed in touch with Jon, Barbara Carr and Tracy Nurse (Bruce’s core team for his career) about making the film.
We spent years working hard to get the script to a level we felt was worthy to send to Bruce, the world changed and it felt more topical than ever. We finally sent the script to Bruce and the word came back that he was, ‘All Good With It.’
I suddenly felt an incredible responsibility to make a film that would honour Bruce’s legacy. This musical genius had trusted me with his life’s work; the thought of disappointing this national treasure who I deeply admired for his passion, his politics, his compassion, was unfathomable.
Once I’d finished my director’s cut I brought the film to New York to show Bruce in case he had any notes on the film. Would he like the way I’d picturised his 18 songs in the film, would the story and humour resonate for him?
I sat behind Bruce like a teenager, peeking over his shoulder to see if he was responding to the film, laughing in the right places, etc. The lights came up in the screening room, I held my breath. Without Bruce’s approval, we had no film. Bruce walked towards me, gave me a big hug and kiss, and said, ‘Thank you for honouring me so beautifully. Don’t change a thing.’ It was the greatest review I’ve ever received.
A couple months later the film had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It was the first time I saw the film with a proper audience and the response was electric; the roof felt like it was going to come off the building and the standing ovation filled me with joy. The audience was responding to Bruce’s vision of America. To the power of music and words written by a young man in New Jersey to touch and transform the life of a young man in a small town in the United Kingdom.
Just like I had all those years ago as a girl in London, they were responding to Bruce’s ability to create bridges, not walls. To see hope and possibility beyond the darkness.
If Blinded by the Light introduces Bruce’s music to new fans around the world, I’ll feel I’ve done my job because Bruce has given so much to me and so many others. That’s a true Superhero.