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Bob Dylan Gets Real in No Direction Home

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I had read that there was a PBS documentary for airing on American Masters was in the works about Bob Dylan’s early years –but discovered that it was on about ten minutes before it aired Pacific Daylight Time by way of a blog post “”No Direction Home: Bob Dylan on PBS Tonight”” on Root.Celler

I was prepared to be bored by Dylan doing his usual act — with glib sarcastic comments and with real feelinsg hidden behind his well-practiced poker face. Well, this time we didn’t get the act.

Perhaps concerned about his place in history, Dylan opens up about that period of his life when he was so influential to my generation during our youth in the 60’s.

PBS presented the documentary in two chunks.The first was a full two hours. which is a long time to sit through a documentary. Those first two hours are so good you hardly notice the length. I just called my mother and told her
to watch the second part. I just finished watching it before I wrote this and I’m a bit sorry she had not seen the first part. I posted about the first part on my blog but the second part was much different.

I had not been aware that director Martin Scorsese did documentaries but I will probably try to see any documentary he does in the future. He restates in an interview done by an over effusive PBS guy his technique for the documentary. He sets a 1966 during a tour that Dylan did of England as the present. During the series of concerts, the American folksinger was consistently jeered by crowds of English folk fans who thought he had departed from propriety by having an electric backup band.

He used extensive and sometime unseen footage from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1966 film, Don’t Look Back which I had seen back when it first came out. I was eighteen when that film came out, and a participant in the psychedelic counterculture. When I saw that film, I was turned off (as we said back then) by Dylan’s sarcastic style. Seeing it again as part of Scorsese’s film, it became completely understandable.

The part of the film my mother saw (the last hour and a half or so) focused more on the “present” of the English tour and was significantly more discordantl than the first two hours.

Those hours were spent as a series of flashbacks from the “present” of the 1966 tour — which told the story of the young Robert Zimmerman from Minnesota’s transformation into the superstar Bob Dylan. In the process, the turbulent and transformational events gave the beat and folksy episodes a positive vibe of hope. Dylan and his fellow folkies were significant players in the civil rights movement which hsbr America for a while, a dream of better days.

The music and scenes were sweet and interspersed with portions of interviews with Dylan and with others important to the story including beat poet Alan Ginsberg as well as folk singers Pete Seeger and Joan Biaz. The musical selections were each perfect and emphasized both the enormous volume of significant works Dylan produces as well as his poetic eloquence.

The second segment ended with sudden catastrophes. Kennedy is killed. Dylan has a bad motorcycles accident and stops touring for eight years. The film ends there making you want things to somehow return to those earlier harmonies and youthful innocence that went before the fall.

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  • Of course Scorcese was involved in filming the Woodstock concert too. He does some excellent camera work. He also had a series on PBS called “The Blues”, which took a look at the origins and development of American blues, from the Delta, through Chicago and up to current day blues musicians.

  • Thanks for the suggestion Amy, I have now added that to the list of links for this post. Look forward to watching it.

  • Amy

    Martin Scorsese did a documentary about Tha Band’s last performance (tour?) called “The Last Waltz” which is quite wonderful. Definitely worth finding particularly if you enjoyed the Dylan documentary the last two nights.