Rolling Stone, in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures, hosted a special screening and panel discussion for Blinded by the Light — which opens in wide release in the U.K. on August 9th and in the U.S. on August 16th — in New York City on Tuesday night. Following a screening the upcoming 1980s period drama featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt sat down with director Gurinder Chadha and screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor. Hiatt’s book, Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, tells the tales behind every officially released studio recording of Bruce Springsteen’s career so far.
Manzoor wrote Greetings from Bury Park, his 2008 memoir on which the film is based, and that detail his teenage years in the British small town of Luton. The movie follows 16-year-old Javed, son of Pakistani immigrants, who amid the political and economic turmoil of the U.K.’s Thatcher era, discovers the music of Springsteen and feels a powerful connection to its lyrics. Chadha noted that, when production began on the film, most of its young cast members were unfamiliar with the rock & roll icon’s work.
“They’d either never heard of Bruce Springsteen or they’d never listened to Bruce Springsteen,” she said. “A lot of people who I’ve talked to say, ‘I knew who Bruce Springsteen was, but I never really understood who he was.'” Several key scenes in Blinded by the Light feature Springsteen’s lyrics being projected onto the background while his music soundtracks the characters’ lives; Chadha said that she hopes this will lead audiences to really note the themes of economic downturn, personal turmoil, and strained optimism that pervade Springsteen’s work.
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In addition to its existence as a love letter to Springsteen, Blinded by the Light undeniably portrays the immigrant experience during a particularly tumultuous political era, punctured by widespread job losses — at places like the factory where Javed’s father works — as well as rising white nationalist factions that the film doesn’t hesitate to draw parallels to today. Chadha referred to the film as “timely” and talked extensively about a neo-Nazi march scene that occurs during the wedding of one of Javed’s sisters. Springsteen’s “Jungleland” overlays the scene and, most heartbreakingly, the Clarence Clemons sax solo underscores the moment where Javed’s father is attacked by a group of skinheads.
“When I was shooting that scene, all I was hearing was that sax,” Chadha explained. “The sax is very spiritual, and transcending everything.” When Chadha met with Springsteen before shooting started, she had the idea in her head and asked for his permission to use “Jungleland” over the scene. “He looked at me and he went, ‘I think Clarence would really like that.'”