Bruce Springsteen has never been a fan of appearing in his music videos, so it’s somewhat of a surprise that today on his website he released a 10-minute short film for “Hunter Of Invisible Game,” a haunting, elegiac track from this year’s “High Hopes” album starring Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen makes his directorial debut with his longtime cinematographer Thom Zimny. In a message on his website, Springsteen says that he and Zimny talked about shooting the film for “a long part of the year.” “We’ve finally got the job done and we think it’s one of our best,” he says. He also talks about how the last two years on the road were a “life changer,” and for fans who are always afraid that the 64-year old Springsteen has reached the end of the touring road, he adds, “We take this break with a sense of joy, renewed purpose and filled with the spirit to bring you our best in the future. We’ve still got a few surprises for you.”
But back to the film, which tell the tale of a man at odds with his world, a man, who as the song’s lyrics describe, spends “my time skipping through the dark.”
Springsteen loves movies, especially westerns, so it’s not a surprise that here he plays the anti-hero, a man who may have lost his moral compass (but not his actual antique one, as we see in the clip). He is adrift in his hunt for the invisible game. He's armed, with both guns and an ax, but it's clear that he is on a never-ending search for an elusive target.
Shot beautifully in a cross between a Ralph Lauren ad and Clint Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven,” the video pans across wide open spaces and dwells on themes that have filled Springsteen’s music his entire career— isolation, the hope for redemption, the tangled relationship between fathers and sons, this place/idea we call America, and death.
In some scenes, the lyrics of the song play out literally, including a scarecrow on fire (in the first scene, it’s not clear if it’s a scarecrow on a man on a cross), the protagonist in a ditch (in this case, it’s a shirtless and tremendously fit Springsteen in a water-filled ravine). The movie stays true to the aching feel of the song and creates its own, cryptic as it may be, narrative.
The film opens with Springsteen in a dark place- literally and figuratively—looking through photos from his past. The movie flashes to a woman. Given that the woman is much younger and seems to live in an earlier, simpler time—clothes drying on the line, lace curtains, Laura Ashley-type dress— it’s never really clear what her relationship with Springsteen is. He’s wearing a wedding ring, so maybe she is his wife who has died and whose name, as the lyrics suggest, he still chants.
He goes off on an undefined journey and a young boy finds him shirtless in the aforementioned ditch as we move into the “Shane” portion of the film. The two bond. The drifter returns the boy to his much-relieved family and tosses him his ivory skull-topped cane to remember him by and then, as he must, rides silently on.
The first six minutes of the video are the most intriguing. They unspool with no conversation, only Springsteen’s elegant instrumental score to accompany the images. The Aaron Copland-like beginning of the actual song begins and then the film turns into a music video with the formerly silent Springsteen singing the song as he continues his travels, meeting up with others, telling ghost stories around a campfire, but still a singular presence. Switching to the traditional music video, while staying with the theme makes perfect sense— for commercial reasons, Springsteen needed to have a regular-length music video outlets can play— but it would have been interesting to have continued in silence and seen where Zimny and Springsteen decided to go with the character.
The video ends with Springsteen riding a horse toward the camera as the film stock crackles and fades.
We don't know how much of a future Springsteen has as a director, but he could definitely score films, if he desired.
What do you think of Springsteen’s directorial debut?