And the director was all like, "Well I got this here camera and I learned how to make it talk!"
This is a sweet little short that has a heart beating underneath it, though it's impossible to know if it would have worked had it been anyone else than Bruce Springsteen featured in the film. Thunder Road, which was originally a B movie that inspired Bruce to write the first track on Born to Run, now inspires filmmaker Jim Cummings (no relation to the voice-over actor) in the story of what happens to a young cop (also Cummings) who is at a funeral for his mother and has to speak in front of everyone.
He rambles at points (a digression into a "bitch" who used to bite people on the arm on the playground doesn't go anywhere, one might assume the mother stopped this or not or what have you), and then increasingly becomes emotional. This all leads to him playing Thunder Road - we at first hear Born to Run since it's the first track he has selected, another in a series of 'I'm emotional, sorry' moments - and then "performs" it in front of everybody, singing along and doing a dance. Does he make it to the end of the song? Watch and find out! The reason I wonder if this would work without the song is that it makes the film stand out specifically in a way that gets a mention, but could it have been any other song? I'm still not sure; I was glad the whole film wasn't just the song, that you do get to sort of know this guy in the five minutes that he's rambling on and on, which is meant to (and I think does) endear us to him. The association I had watching this was that it could have been the starting point, or a pivotal moment, for like a character in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (it feels like a moment out of one of his 90's films, 70's rock song included), and yet there are tiny touches that do make it a good short.
The one that sticks out the most is when he is performing, we can see in the periphery of the shot as it pulls back someone is getting this all on their camera phone. I felt more empathy in that moment, that it's not going completely naked in emotional vulnerability, but that it would be captured forever on someone's phone or put online as a goof. I'm still unsure if this would have made the rounds, let alone won at Sundance, without the song. But it does matter I think, especially in the brief explanation as to why his mother loved her so - his songs made her feel like she could leave and be free - and in a sense his actions to the song are a tribute to that. For a few moments an uptight cop has to... feel things, and it's uncomfortable and awkward and full of turmoil.
That it's all in one shot makes it that we can't turn away from this guy (any other director might keep it mostly on him and get reactions, but, except for one moment he pans to someone near the front looking on, our eyes are on him, so it's really about US and what we think of this. Thunder Road is well done, despite my question about why it had to be THIS song in Bruce's catalog (but hey, at least it ain't Jungleland, that's sacred!)
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