The Other Side Of The Mirror: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 documents Bob Dylan's musical appearances and his changing style and growing confidence from 1963 through 1965. This film was broadcast by BBC Four on October 14, 2007.
Director Murray Lerner comments, "Over the course of three Newport gigs, Dylan becomes more conscious of his power. His charisma is startling. With electricity and radio, he did what Yeats, Lorca, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound never achieved. He reached a mass audience with poetry." This is what The Other Side Of The Mirror shows.
In 83 minutes, divided into three sections (one for each year), it shows how Dylan develops as a musician. It is a simple film that does not interject anyone's impressions or subjective criticisms, either positive or negative. The film itself speaks more powerfully than any commentary possibly could.
The Newport Folk Festival was started in 1959 by George Wein and promoter Albert Grossman as a spin-off of Wein's Newport Jazz Festival. From the beginning it was meant to be both cultural and political. Many of the guiding spirits of the festival were people who had come of age with the left-wing politics of the 1930s and 1940s. Music was the method these idealists used to express the spirit of the common people, a way to try to gain more power and leverage in society.
When Bob Dylan came along, they found they had discovered a talent that surpassed any of those from the prior generation, including Joe Hill, Pete Seeger, Aunt Molly Jackson, and even Woody Guthrie. They felt that Dylan had a genius beyond any of his predecessors.
In 1963 the reputation of Dylan's songs had preceded him. Performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, and others, the songs had gained him notice. Now, at Newport, large numbers of fans could finally hear these songs performed by the artist himself.
The Other Side Of The Mirror shows us how Bob Dylan fulfilled those hopes and dreams; how he subsequently freed himself of the bonds that threatened to caricature him; and how he was then able to find a new voice and persona, and move into new artistic territory.
The film does this by presenting sequenced performances from each of the three years, along with snippets of his interaction with the musicians and audience. Some of the footage is from the daytime informal "workshops" and some from the more formal nighttime concerts.
The film shows the dramatic change in Dylan's persona that occurred in 1965. That was the year of the controversial "electric" set of July 25, the first time Dylan ever played electric live. Earlier in the day, at the workshop, the announcer says something to the effect of, "After Bobby's set there will be no remarks." This was because they were running late. Under his breath, Dylan says, "That's what you think." This is a far cry from 1963, and even 1964, where he seemed just happy to be there. You can see that by the time of the electric set he was in control and could handle the booing from those who disapproved of the new sound.
While I am not the biggest fan of Dylan's really early stuff, I found it fascinating to watch his growth during this time. I loved watching Joan Baez trying to contain her powerful voice in duets with Dylan, and I liked watching the crowd's reaction to his performances. My biggest complaints are that some of the songs are not complete cuts, instead segueing into other songs, and that some of the songs (again, this is not my favorite Dylan period) seem to just go on and on.
I think that the no-frills presentation — just show the show and let the film do the talking — works better than anyone trying to tell me about the sessions and how Dylan changed. The film and sound quality are very good. The only extras are a nicely done 20-page booklet and an interview with Murray Lerner. The Other Side Of The Mirror is a unique time capsule. It is a must for anyone who is into early Dylan, folk music, or music history.