Bob Dylan, past and present, has been remarkably captured, performing and reminiscing in a treasure-trove of a film directed by Martin Scorsese. Combining old footage with contemporary interviews, Scorsese has masterfully assembled a film that is a close-up of Dylan’s performances on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour and of those who accompanied him. He has blended that with an intimate contemporary talk with Dylan, and he also interviewed others who share memories of those exciting days.
The tour, which began in 1975, came about when Dylan decided he wanted to perform for crowds of about 3000 instead of huge audiences. He organized such a tour of group of cities and, fortunately for posterity, he arranged for it to be filmed. A finished film never emerged, but the footage was there for Scorsese to use.
There are terrific close-ups of Dylan singing and his musicians performing with him. We get an array of Dylan songs delivered in his style and with his intensity and belief in what he sings. Joan Baez went along on the tour, and there are wonderful clips of them singing together. Joni Mitchell also joined the tour, and Sharon Stone signed on as an assistant. Scarlet Rivera is quite a sight and sound playing the violin.
Scorsese places the tour footage in the cultural and political context of the times, as, for example, with the footage of Allen Ginsberg on the tour reciting his poetry. Sam Shepard was also with Dylan, and Scorsese works in footage of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter talking about his friendship with Dylan, and Dylan, who passionately sings the song he composed about Carter, the boxer who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for murder. There are film clip references to Nixon’s resignation and the Vietnam War.
I enjoyed the recollections of Stone about those days, as she can be amusing in telling anecdotes. And there is a particularly poignant moment with Dylan and Baez. They talk about the paths their lives took, Dylan saying he found a woman he loves, and Baez saying she found a man she thought she loved. There is poignancy in the exchange, given that the two were known to have been romantically involved.
Others also look back, but the main interview is the fascinating chat with Dylan. While he comes across as the most fascinating, he is an enigmatic man of few words, but Scorsese has managed to get him to provide terse but revealing responses.
Importantly, the film is a dynamic record of the rebellious spirit that infused Dylan and other performers of that generation at the time. At the end, after listing the cities that the Rolling Thunder Revue visited, there is a huge added list of cities, domestic and international, where Dylan has performed over the years.
Scorsese has done a great service for the music world by making this documentary, which is both informative and entertaining as it shows Dylan and his singing with special intiimacy. A Netflix release. Reviewed June 28, 2019.