I always wonder what’s wrong with the people who wish they’d been born in another year. Like all of those Tumblr teenagers who wish they’d been born in the 80s. It doesn’t make any sense. Yeah, I love John Hughes movies and glam rock as much as the next person. But living in the 80s? I don’t think so. The only people who ever say things like that are the people who only know that era through a microcosm. Ask the people who lived in the 80s, they’d probably tell a different story. Certainly in England, the 80s weren’t the magical place so many young people want to believe it to be. The economy had gone to shit, people were out of work, there was so much violence and hatred on the streets. Kinda like now but with even bigger shoulder pads and double denim. It wasn’t a great time overall. I’m sure people made the best of it but it will have been so difficult for so many. To romanticise any era of the past solely based on your pop culture/fashion tastes is to trivialise the reality of that time. And, as you can tell, it annoys the fuck out of me.
And it’s films like Blinded by the Light that are such a big part of the problem. Based on the memoirs of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, this film takes us back to the late 1980s and shows us how one young man’s life changed the first time he heard Bruce Springsteen. It’s 1987 and Javed Khan is a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager living in Luton. Javed comes from a traditional family so has been prevented from living life as every other British teen. He isn’t allowed to go to parties, doesn’t have a girlfriend, and has to hand over his wages to help his family. His father has planned out his life for him but all Javed wants to do is write. Whether it’s writing his diary, writing songs for his friend’s band, or writing poetry in his room at night, Javed is slowly finding his voice. Something that finally starts to make sense the first time he hears Bruce Springsteen.
Blinded by the Light is a wonderfully charming film about what it’s like to have a real passion for music. It perfectly captures that feeling of hearing a singer as a teenager and getting the feeling that they understand you. No matter how far apart they may seem, Javed sees bits of his life in Bruce’s words. The frustration of living in a small town and wanting to get out. We see Bruce at the centra of some of Javed’s turning points and it’s easy to understand why the singer became so important to him. The lyrics burst out of the teen’s headphones and onto the screen. Weaving themselves around him and infiltrating his surroundings. It may be a tad clichéd but these moments are visually arresting enough to get the point across.
That’s the thing about Blinded by the Light that I think something like Yesterday was missing. Both of these films are based on their adoration of a musician but Blinded by the Light embraces its foibles. The film is so over-the-top but it feels real. Yesterday was so fawning but you feel Javed’s passion here. You understand how Bruce can make one person feel so alive. As a film, it won’t surprise you and it doesn’t really take many chances but you’ll not be able to help being swept away by it. It’s a feeling that makes so much sense. A film that really understands how powerful music can be when you’re defining who you are. How a single lyric or line of music can speak for you at a specific moment in your life. It doesn’t matter that you know exactly where it’s going or that it embraces its corny side. It’s not the biggest or the cleverest film you’ll see but it will make you happy.
Even though Blinded by the Light doesn’t pretend that the 80s were all that great for people like Javed. Despite all of its musical silliness, the film does a pretty good job of showing the harsh realities faced by British-Pakistani families in the 80s. Fascist skinheads follow Javed home, young boys piss through letterboxes, and the streets are filled with violent Nazis. See people who would rather live in the 80s. You’re basically already there but the internet is much better. You might as well stay. As well as this, we explore the differences between Javed’s upbringing and his friends. The difference between his father and his classmates’ parents. Now obviously, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the experiences on-screen but certain scenes feel momentous from the way they play out. You see the love that the family has but mixed with the stifling traditions that Javed is fighting against. You won’t end up hating his father but you’ll still rejoice when Javed finally gets what he wants.