“Blinded by the Light” is a religious picture in which the religion is the music of Bruce Springsteen.
It's the story of a young man whose existence is terrible and hopeless — but once he discovers The Boss, just about every aspect of his life instantly gets better.
It's wildly corny, sometimes ridiculously so, but it’s ultimately a winning film.
The film is based on the memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.” It's directed by Gurinder Chadha, who also made “Bend It Like Beckham,” who here applies a similar template again: the conflict between a South Asian teenager in England and the teenager’s immigrant parents, with the music of Springsteen standing in for soccer.
“Blinded By The Light” is set in the small town of Luton in England during the depths of the Margaret Thatcher era around 1987. Viveik Kalra stars as Javed, a teenager from a family of Pakistani immigrants, dealing with shyness at school, his father's unemployment, rampaging skinheads and a life of general despair.
That all changes when a friend slips him a couple of Springsteen cassettes. There's something about Bruce's lyrics that speaks to him and causes him to suddenly develop confidence, land a cute girlfriend (Nell Williams) and show heretofore unseen skills as a writer. He also starts dressing like Bruce — well, perhaps more like John Cusack in that one flashback scene in “High Fidelity” — and develops a tendency to launch into full-on musical numbers based on Springsteen songs.
The Boss himself does not appear in the film, although he did show up at its American premiere, which was held, naturally, in Asbury Park.
Does the whole thing play like an unnecessary commercial for Bruce's music while also ascribing magical powers to it that don't actually exist? Yes. Does the movie stretch things a bit to make Javed relate so much to the songs that Springsteen wrote when he was already a millionaire in the 1980s? Of course. Is it all ridiculously, relentlessly corny, including a laughable scene in which Javed and his friend fend off a gang of skinheads by breaking into a rendition of “Better Days?” Oh, yeah.
Plus, the title of the sourcebook — “Greetings from Bury Park” — is a much better name than “Blinded By The Light,” a song that's much better known for its cover by Manfred Mann than Bruce’s original version. It also led to one of my favorite comedy sketches of all time, by The Vacant Lot, in which a bunch of men sit around a poker table arguing about what the correct lyrics are to the song (for those of you still wondering, it’s “Blinded by the Light/Revved up like a deuce/Another runner in the night”).
Oddly enough, I had trouble being bothered by any of that, largely because the film is so infectiously joyous. Plus, the conflict between Javed and his father, while far from an original plot, is poignant. The use of those great Springsteen songs doesn't hurt either.
In all, “Blinded By The Light” is much better than “Yesterday,” the other movie this summer about a South Asian immigrant in England who embraces a large piece of the classic rock canon.
Moving on, the debut of “Cold Case Hammarskjöld” in the aftermath of what was the curious case of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein feels like the perfect week to release a film about an elaborate, totally outlandish conspiracy theory — one that might actually be true.
“Cold Case Hammarskjöld” is a documentary from Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger that investigates the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations Secretary-General who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961.
The film, which debuted at Sundance in January, ties Hammarskjold's death to the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), a shadowy mercenary outfit that operated in South Africa with possible CIA ties, and largely existed to sustain apartheid and white supremacy in that country. Even more wildly, the film alleges that in the 1980s, years after the assassination, SAIMR plotted to purposely infect black South Africans with AIDS.
“Cold Case Hammarskjöld” is a lot like Oliver Stone's J.F.K. It's a fascinating, brilliantly made work of cinema, even though its conclusions are far from solid and at times are almost certainly wrong. For the record, I buy that SAIMR had involvement in Hammarskjöld's death, although the AIDS thing is considerably more outlandish. They may have attempted to inject people with AIDS, but scientists reacting to the film appear unanimous that such an effort could not have succeeded.
Even so, the film is a fascinating watch that actually attempts documentary filmmaking as an act of news-breaking journalism, a trait that's vanishingly rare these days. Brugger also does the Nick Broomfield-Werner Herzog thing, in which he makes himself a character and depicts his own part in the narrative.
I've always been generally skeptical about conspiracy theories. After all, for most high-level conspiracies to succeed, and not get exposed, it would require everyone involved with the conspiracy to stay quiet about it, forever, and not get caught or slip up or implicate their co-conspirators.
This view has largely held for much of the last decade, mostly because the majority of high-profile conspiracy theories (see: Obama birtherism, Pizzagate, QAnon, the idea that Jerry Sandusky was framed, etc.) are just so self-evidently baseless and ridiculous.
And then we have something like the death of Jeffrey Epstein, which seemingly had everyone of every political persuasion doubting the official story of suicide and seeking to pin the disgraced financier's death on Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, the Russians or whoever else happens to be the nexus of evil in their particular eyes.
“Cold Case Hammarskjöld” does not make a rock-solid case for all of the things it alleges. But in terms of the murder of a former secretary-general, it does make a case strong enough to raise questions while also going into fascinating, investigative corners.