One hates to look back, especially given the title of this book and the DVD that accompanies it (or really, the other way around), Don't Look Back, filmed and written by D.A. Pennebaker.
Don't Look Back is a documentary of Bob Dylan's UK tour of 1965 and opens with the famous black-and-white video of Dylan performing "Subterranean Homesick Blues". In the background there is, in case you didn’t know – and I say this because I was surprised that a good friend who knows a lot about Dylan did not know – Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth. Ginsberg is dressed sort of like a rabbi here, and Neuwirth is carrying a walking stick that keeps popping in and out of the front or left side of the frame. It’s not a big deal, but it's an interesting bit of trivia if you’ve seen the video and wondered who it is in the background talking.
The book, which is the script for Don’t Look Back, is useful, especially for those who have actually seen the film (and I recommend you do, otherwise the book really cannot mean as much as it would – it lacks a certain potential), for it gives us the detail that we may be missing such as names. For instance Alan Price of the Animals who makes an appearance is one name we miss in the documentary; the book identifies him and therefore adds some value to the viewing. Then there is the famous (or infamous) interview with a "science student" who comes as a "sort of" journalist to interview Dylan.
Dylan, known for not particularly liking interviews and often being cantankerous or conversely sometimes overly shy, in this case can afford to be whoever he wants to be because he alone with the science student/journalist. It's an interesting exchange between Dylan and the student and a fast one. Dylan keeps egging the student/journalist on, picking on the young man in some way – questioning his every question such that we wonder who is questioning whom.
For example, Dylan says, "Just give me a reason why I should want to know you.”
To which the science student replies, “Um… I might be worth knowing."
Dylan responds, "Why?"
This may have been a mistake on Dylan's part for this shy and retiring science student who seemed unable to hold his own went on to found Chrysalis Records (I may be wrong about the label, but I'm pretty sure that was it.) If I’m wrong about this label and you know it was a different one, correction please. Either way, the student did become someone “worth knowing.”
No, Pennebaker's script will not have this sort of information in it, but with a backward glance, if you know enough about what became of the "science student" in the later years, you see what a mistake Dylan made by blowing off the young man in this case and more, what a mistake the science student also made by rejecting Dylan’s harmonica offer, a mistake that has any fan or Dylanologist today saying, “Oww….” But then, how could he have known at the time?
What we see through the screenplay of Don't Look Back are the things that perhaps changed the lives of those on the scene at the time, and that is what makes Pennebaker so incredibly talented.
D.A. Pennebaker has a remarkable ability to make himself invisible as a filmmaker, thereby putting his subjects fully at ease and able to truly be themselves in front of camera as if they have forgotten it is there. What Pennebaker does is capture the "cinema verite" – what the tour was really like. This is the information that is invaluable and that would be lost to history, and this is why the book is valuable as an adjunct to the film.
Buy the DVD Don't Look Back; buy this book at the same time and see and read together. You won't miss a thing, and yes, it is with a backward glance, but we do it without regret.
Thanks for listening.