Friday, November 4, 2016


If you want to help Bob celebrate his Nobel Prize, this is a good place to go. It will help get clear out all the garbage that has been piled on since the announcement of the award, both on mainstream media or in the useless arguments on social media. You can hear Dylan himself, either in vintage interviews or the lengthy one conducted for this documentary, explain that no, he isn't writing protest songs; no, he isn't speaking for his generation, he isn't claiming to do any of the things people were saying he was doing then. And strangely enough, all the talking heads reporting on his Nobel win that day, most of whom weren't born anywhere close to the 60s, repeated the same old tired lines. And as for all the writers and poets who got annoyed because Dylan won and he's not "literature", the Nobel committee gave him the award for changing songwriting, not for writing poetry, again, something he never claimed to be doing.

Rant over. This is the reissue of the Martin Scorsese documentary first seen on PBS, made in conjunction with the Dylan people, which means he had full access to the archive of amazing footage that has been stored away, the Lerner and Pennebaker raw film, including the infamous 1966 tour material, being booed by British audiences, and confronted by loony fans. Dylan himself sat for 10 hours answering questions more honestly than ever before, being beside Martin Luther King for the "I have a dream" speech, stealing a friend's record collection in Minnesota for the rare folk albums, going electric, going to see Woody Guthrie, learning to write and perform, all of it.

Scorsese also had access to many of the first-hand witnesses to Dylan's rise. There are old friends from Minnesota, and many of the wonderful characters of Greenwich Village: Dave Van Ronk, Maria Muldair, Liam Clancy. There's even Suze Rotolo, famously pictured walking arm in arm with him on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. His next lover, Joan Baez does a great imitation of him, as she tells the story of Dylan writing a new song in front of her, admitting he doesn't know what it means, but laughing that the critics would soon be telling them what it's about.

Dylan's people made the job easier for Scorsese, by setting the parameters for the film. It would only go up to the end of the 1966 tour, and the famous motorcycle accident which ended that early rocketing period for him. It is an amazing story, that period, not that what came after isn't, but there is a natural pause there, if not an ending. There's so much to examine, and so much incredible footage to see. At one point just past half-way of the three hour show (it's in two parts, as originally broadcast), the songs and original film fly past, Chimes of Freedom here, It's Alright Ma there. It was exploding from him.

Scorsese tries and succeeds to show the difference between the times that were a-changin', and Dylan's association with them. Yes, it was upheaval, with the civil rights movement, Kennedy's assassination, Viet Nam, and Dylan was the most powerful voice. But he was chasing art. Baez tells of her great plans for the couple, to use their fame and voices to lead the protest movement, but then finding out Dylan wanted nothing to do with it.

This reissue is called the 10th Anniversary Edition (even though it's actually 11, go figure), and does get bumped up with some extras for the two-disc version. There are extended interviews with some, including Scorsese talking about the whole project, and some longer old film scenes. Best of all, there are several original Dylan performances, from TV shows and movie out-takes. Most exciting is the full 1966 electric performances with The Hawks, including Like A Rolling Stone, the centerpiece of the documentary. People booed this? It's the best thing ever. After watching this again, I guess I have some issues with the Nobel too. It shouldn't have been for literature, it should have been for science.

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