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Bruce almighty
If left-leaning, working class hero Bruce Springsteen really was 'The Boss' then the US might stand a chance of redeeming itself. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is the story of how one man's universal art can soar over cultural hurdles. Camus takes that long walk...
 
  "My English teacher in high school came into our class one morning, sat down, and played this entire album (The River, a double album) for us without saying a word. I'm eternally grateful."
  Markus Romantic, YouTube User*
  "I think that, for me, I couldn't have had a better hero than Bruce Springsteen because he’s like your friend. He’s been there for me since I was 16 and he’s still there for me today."
  Director and co-writer Gurinder Chada**

 

It was sort of inevitable that I would be well disposed to the idea of this film even before seeing a frame of the trailer. I was first alerted to its existence (despite its early Sundance success) by the new film magazine, Film Stories launched by Simon Drew (Den of Geek founder). He put Gurinder Chada, Blinded's director, on the cover (kudos), which took me to the article. I was never going to pass on any film that was marketed by the words "...inspired by the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen." And I'm so glad I caught it, over a week into its run at a small but satisfyingly full cinema. We have a teen stuck in the mire of family duty and academic study at the time of great upheaval in the UK in the 80s. His Pakistani family suffer racist abuse at a frequency that now seems all too prescient. Upon literally bumping into a fellow student, a Sikh 'Boss' fan, he discovers what all his New Romantic buddies are calling 'dated' music... the rock and roll of a certain Mr. Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics and music of 'the Boss' propel our hero forward tapping into and manifesting a confidence, ambition and talent he never knew he had. So far, so relatively predictable. But it's not the predictability that makes Chada's movie so intoxicating. Like the best of Pixar, we all know where we are going but it's how we get there (that even may be a paraphrased Springsteen lyric) that's the most important thing.

I offer a brief unapologetic wander down my own memory lane... My best friend in the earliest school I can remember attending was called David. Being very young and ridiculously unworldly, I didn't twig that David was 'different'. In fact, all my early friendships were based on simply being friends and not taking their obviously different ethnicity to my own into account. As a white, working class boy, I was privileged and honoured to be Best Man at the weddings of two of my other close friends, one from Sri Lanka and the other whose mother was of Asian extraction. David was Jewish, a fact I only really twigged at our very different reactions to the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We both had opposing opinions on why God laid waste to every one with open eyes when the ark was opened...  As for my three friends, Jewishness, mixed-race Asian and Sri Lankan meant absolutely nothing to me. They were simply my friends. Allow me an overly dramatic segue alluded to with great respect for all those affected by this particular event all those many years ago.

Inspired by the words and music of Bruce Springsteen...

Another school friend of ours in the late 70s was murdered on a French train in horrible but wildly misreported circumstances. David and I had parted company (inevitably any relationship suffers when friends attend different high schools) but we met up again at our mutual friend's funeral. Our friendship was still largely intact but there was gulf of experience, a gap of seven years that separated us. And then Bruce happened. I went back to David's house after the funeral and for reasons lost in the fog of time he performed both Thunder Road and Born To Run with an acoustic guitar accompaniment. That was 'the moment'. In the movie they refer to it as 'popping your Bruce cherry.' I was a fan from then on. This wasn't some Status Quo, head-banging, denim-suited, two-chord wonder. This was a domestic Dylan, a prestigious poet who just happened to set his personal and yet universal poetry to wondrously raw rock and roll. I mean, C'mon... How's this from Thunder Road... a young man trying to convince his love that their moment has arrived...

"There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away.
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burnt out Chevrolets.
They scream your name at night in the street.
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet.

And in the lonely cool before dawn,
You hear their engines roaring on.
But when you get to the porch they're gone
On the wind, so Mary, climb in.
It's a town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win..."

Javed (a hugely beguiling newcomer, Viveik Kalra) is on the cusp of the sixth form going through a standard teenage rebellion, suffering under the demands of his family and trying to find his voice writing poetry and song lyrics for his best friend Matt (Joffrey's suicidal brother in Game of Thrones) played innocently and knowingly by Dean-Charles Chapman. Coming from a Pakistani family, Javed is ruled by the religion-based system of family-first. It's only when Javed plays tapes of Springsteen's albums does he suddenly understand that human problems and solutions are largely universal. What a young man in New Jersey may write about his and his friends' experiences in the 70s may resonate profoundly with boys and men of other cultures who are given a glimpse that there may be more to life than obeying dad and his religion's diktats. Now, this causes a small but perhaps insurmountable problem. If an artist's work from culture A speaks so profoundly to a person who lives in culture B, does the culture B person have to take up the culture A? There's the rub. Can Javed successfully become a New Jersey poet? Perhaps not. But he can use that blue-collar wisdom to make more of himself. He has another huge advantage; there is someone who recognises the edges and depths of his talent. Please excuse me the personal indulgence of the next paragraph. Here be a shrine to womanhood... I bend the knee.

Blinded by the Light

Who has more influence on young minds more than parents in some cases? Yes, teachers. And there must be a middling to high percentage of us who developed strong crushes on those teachers who were considerate and supportive. We all remember teachers who inspired us, encouraged us and pushed us. Jared's teacher, Miss Clay (feet of? No chance) is played by... I have to stop. My regard for this actress is at a ridiculously all time high. I noticed her as Steve Rogers' smitten government agent. The moment of her not being able to resist touching Steve's new-found buffed up body is one of the MCU's sexiest scenes. She had her own two season long TV series, Agent Carter, that, behind the scenes, waged a witty musical war with its sister TV series Agents of Shield. She has partnered Christopher Robin and has railed against the digital alteration of her image. She's my hero. In every scene in Blinded, Haley Atwell shines. That's the light I'm blinded by. Enough of this fan-boy frippery.

Chada and fellow writers Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor (author of the book the film is based on) walk an extremely fine line in terms of the portrayal of cultures. Within British culture, Pakistani tradition and religion are harder on teenagers than most cultural expectations but the filmmakers appear not to be overtly critical. This is hardly surprising. They let Javed's drive against his own circumstances provide the critical voice. You never get the impression the filmmakers are judging anything or anyone with the possible exceptions (worthy ones too) of the racist thugs. There were moments in the film that surprised and delighted me particularly the answer to the question "What do culturally restricted teenagers do for kicks when not allowed to go to night clubs?" I actually laughed when suddenly school uniformed teens started pouring out of what must be described as a 'day club'. The contentious battle between integration and segregation is never addressed but then the hero does learn more than just wisdom from his hero's music. The film's depiction of racism is cold and hateful. As hate needs to be taught, I often wonder where all the hate schools are... In the homes of frightened and ill-educated mothers and fathers I suppose.

So, in the UK, we inch towards the cliff of social, economic and political oblivion. I'm not suggesting that films like Blinded by the Light can help (but they most certainly do). They state unequivocally that 'the other' is nothing of the sort. The other is human. Full stop. And we all suffer and laugh and live by the exact same circumstances. It's time to celebrate that. Please. The other fork in the road leads to misery and dark times. If a white, working class boy from Ashbury Park, New Jersey can write songs that speak to us all, then we have a small window of hope. Someone wrote recently that we should remember that the European Union was formed not because of its promotion of smoother trade deals and economic growth. It was created to spread and stimulate peace among the peoples of this union. Blinded by the Light does wonders for this ethos and I salute everyone involved in its production. One last Bruce quote...

"Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
But mama, that's where the fun is."

Have fun!

 


* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc6F47Z6PI4

** https://screenrant.com/blinded-light-gurinder-chadha-aaron-phagura-interview/

Blinded by the Light poster
Blinded by the Light

UK | USA 2019
117 mins
directed by
Gurinder Chadha
produced by
Jane Barclay
Gurinder Chadha
Jamal Daniel
written by
Paul Mayeda Berges
Gurinder Chadha
Sarfraz Manzoor
inspired by the words and music by
Bruce Springsteen
cinematography
Ben Smithard
editing
Justin Krish
music
A.R. Rahman
production design
Nick Ellis
starring
Viveik Kalra
Kulvinder Ghir
Meera Ganatra
Aaron Phagura
Dean-Charles Chapman
Nikita Mehta
Nell Williams

UK distributor
Entertainment One UK
UK release date
9 August 2019
review posted
18 August 2019

See all of Camus' reviews