BOB DYLAN - NO DIRECTION HOME
A review of Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary, 'No Direction Home'
Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan opus, screened on BBC 2 in the UK, in late September 2005, was an in-depth look at Dylan's formative years, up to the time of the "Judas" insults and his motorcycle crash in 1966. Ultimately, it's a documentary that inspires, though the film ended abruptly, when it would have been better to at least have seen some glimpses of Dylan post-1966.
Maybe's there's too much non-Dylan material in this near three-and-a-half hour film, but, overall, it's an enthralling look at Dylan's early career, with comments from the man himself - from now and the 1960s. Much of the archive footage is drawn from two sources - D.A. Pennebaker's film on Dylan's 1965 tour of England, 'Don't Look Back', and Murray Lerner's 'Festival' - covering the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.
The film goes into Dylan's early influences, particularly Woody Guthrie, and the atmosphere of early-mid '60s America, with the civil rights struggle, Vietnam, and President Kennedy's assassination. All grist to the Dylan mill.
Dylan was quite heavily involved in the civil rights scene, playing in Mississippi, with friend and major influence Pete Seeger, and also playing on the same podium, and on the same day, as where Martin Luther King delivered his legendary "I have a dream" speech - a speech which still leaves Dylan awed, as he reflected: "I was up close when King was giving that speech, and to this day it still affects me in a profound way."
Dylan, in his early days, comes across as a taciturn interviewee amidst a haze of cigarette smoke, obviously happy to let his songs do the talking. Dylan never wanted to be a malleable star. It was success on his terms. Dylan: "I've never been that kind of performer that wants to be one of them. You know, like one of the crowd."
'No Direction Home' may not have much really revealing material for Dylan devotees, but it's an important documentary on one of the most influential figures of 20th Century music. Al Kooper tells how he blagged his way on to Dylan's memorable 'Like A Rolling Stone' track, as the organist, though he was originally enlisted as a guitarist. He heard blues guitar god Mike Bloomfield, realised he couldn't compete, so looked for an opportunity to get on the record playing something else. Kooper sneaked in on the organ, and was so careful not to make a mistake that he was an eighth of a note behind the rest of the players - just to make sure he got it right.
Other contributions of note come from Joan Baez, which is profanity-laden, and she still seems hurt by how her relationship with Dylan ended. Dylan had seen Joan on TV, before he himself was famous, and thought maybe she needed a male voice. Dylan had goals and managed to achieve them. Being unafraid to voice anti-establishment opinions, but not being obnoxious to people who could help him on the road to success.
1963 saw Dylan triumph at the Newport Folk Festival, with his leading a rendition of 'Blowin' In The Wind', with Peter, Paul, and Mary, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and The Freedom Singers. His performance there in 1965 was less than a triumphant return. Dylan had an electrified backing band, for the first time, and a large part of the crowd turned on him. Seeger had, it was rumoured, been so distressed to see his protégé go electric that he was going to cut the cables. It was also said, however, that Seeger was distressed because his father was hard of hearing, and the somewhat loud and distorted sound was disorientating him. Dylan came back onstage, after his electric set, via desperate bidding, to play one song on his acoustic. The 1965 tour of England was also a fraught one, with Dylan being backed by what would later be The Band. There were "Judas" calls, and boos everywhere he went, but the criticism seems quite mild by today's standards, though there was a little rumour that someone took a shot at Dylan while he was onstage in England. Also, in 'No Direction Home', there's some great offstage footage of Bob and Johnny Cash duetting at a piano on this tour.
Among the other contributors in the film were Liam Clancy, who pertinently said, "He articulated what we couldn't". Also contributing were Peter Yarrow, a sadly frail-looking Allen Ginsberg, Maria Muldaur, old flame Suze Rotolo, and Pete Seeger - still looking on Bob with paternal and fraternal affection.
- Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.