A Day In The Company Of A Musical Expeditionary

Although it is officially releasing tomorrow a local record shop had a copy of the new highly anticipated (at least by me) Martin Scorsese documentary DVD – NO DIRECTION HOME * on their shelf this morning. The store was breaking the street date (which is actually illegal) but I wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I purchased it and went home to spend the day with Dylan. A trailer which made the internet rounds a few months back had made my mouth water with snatches of never seen before footage and promises of absorbing insights about one of the most fascinating performers ever when they were most on fire. From the kick-off – beautiful technicolor film of Dylan with his hair glowing in the stage-lights howling “Like A Rolling Stone” with the blazing Band (then called the Hawks) on fire behind him in Newcastle, England on the infamous ’66 tour it was more than obvious I was in for a treat.

The film is in 2 parts over 2 DVDs with a smattering of extras – roughly 4 hours of amazing stuff! It’s airing on PBS next week I think too. It is largely in traditional chronological structure but does cut ahead to the ’66 tour footage heavily implying that that is the meat of the matter but also maybe because Scorsese couldn’t wait to give us hints of the climax. A recent interview with Bob as well as comments from other key era players (Dave Von Ronk, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Pete Yarrow, etc) forms the narration as the film takes us from Hibbing, Minnesota through Greenwich Village to the controversial electric debut at Newport then lands us onto a hostile British stage where the showdown between artist and fan reached its zenith.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story – basically this: a kid who considers himself a “musical expeditionary” achieves fame and fortune as a folk singer but betrays the movement to become a rock ‘n roll star. Audiences booed, critics cooed, and music and the times were changed incredibly. Then he got into a motorcycle accident and it was all over. Dylan didn’t tour again for 8 years and while he created lasting work the break in momentum appeared to do some notable damage. Okay, that’s a simplistic as Hell telling of the tale granted but it is still the basics as I see ’em.

NO DIRECTION HOME is an emotional experience and as cheesy as it may sound it really left me feeling like I had been on a visceral journey. Many segments I’m not ashamed to say made me cry – Dylan’s performance at the March on Washington in 1963, Baez’s portrayal of her relationship with him, and the many many comments about the intensity of the Man’s talent like : “God, instead of touching him on the shoulder kicked him in the ass! Really! He can’t help what he’s doing. He’s got the holy spirit about him. You can tell that by looking at him.” – Bob Jonhston (producer of “Highway 61 Revisited”)

What really adds to the entertainment factor is how funny this film is as well – young baby faced Bob blatantly lying about his background (“I was raised in Gallup, New Mexico”), his stealing hundreds of rare record albums from his peers, his continious baiting and press conference put-ons – Reporter: “do you think of yourself as a singer or as a poet?” Dylan: “I think of myself as a song and dance man.”

With its stunning footage and powerful narrative progression this is without a doubt one of the greatest documentaries made about a performer that I’ve ever seen. Unlike the Beatles Anthology there are no unnecessary stylistic touches like people’s images disappearing from photographs, no flashy polishes – just the footage and comments alone and the flowing approach to the material is intoxicating. This is a documentary that I know I’ll come back to again and again for decades. No direction home maybe but fortunately road-maps for the soul like this are available.

* The IMDb wrongly states : Plot Outline: This is a four hour documentary on Bob Dylan that ends in 1965. To any casual observer this film ends in mid 1966! Jeez. I may have to make a film babble blog post about the many mistakes on the IMDb like :

Steve Martin an extra in Bruce Lee’s second movie, Jing Wu Men (1972). He plays a policeman who shoots Bruce at the very end of the film.

That’s completely bogus. I’ve seen the film and neither Martin appears nor does the movie end that way. If you have any IMDb mistakes – send ’em on!

More later…

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