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10/26/05
Reviewed by - Dw Dunphy


Bob Dylan
No Direction Home

People who know me know how much I love music and movies, at times juggling one for the other as the momentary all-consuming passion. Director Martin Scorcese has that same double-mindedness, a quality that draws me back to his movies time after time. Putting aside his film of The Band’s last performance, the star-studded “The Last Waltz” and his expansive PBS documentary “The Blues”, his fiction works hold as much reverence to the art of the soundtrack. Think about his “Taxi Driver” sequence featuring Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky” or the body count sequence in “GoodFellas”, set to the closing of “Layla”. The man knows music.

Who else could have been the best candidate for this, the first act of the career of the legendary Bob Dylan? Scorcese’s work with The Band’s Robbie Robertson was instant entrée, considering how The Band began as the backing group for Dylan. Also, who else could implicitly understand what it is like to have a public with a specific expectation for their work and, at the most critical point, shift that expectation to follow a different muse? Named after a cornerstone phrase from “Like A Rolling Stone”, “No Direction Home” seems a perfect combination of two immensely popular and respected figures in their respective fields.

Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, became a meteoric sensation in the folk world in the 1960s, his songs becoming protest anthems that stood side by side with those of his idols Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. And he did it with a guitar, a harmonica and a sense of the poetic and of straight-talk.

Then something changed; that muse he followed led him to electric guitar, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and an incendiary delivery. The spiky barrage of “Like A Rolling Stone”, the sneering bluntness of “Positively 4th Street” and a host of sounds we now recognize as classic Dylan, were at that time was nothing short of heresy – no exaggeration. Witness some of the footage of the time as fans, media and various other sycophantic influences keep trying to get Dylan to self-admit himself into Prophet’s Row, or to announce his candidacy as The Voice Of A Generation. Some of it is funny at first, but some is equally annoying and downright scary. Just as they saw honest social commentary in “Blowin’ In The Wind”, they swore they saw the same in everything he sang, every move he made. A cult was beginning to form around his feet and Dylan looks alternately angry, frightened and even amused by the power he seems to wield.

I must admit that I think the real Dylan is nothing if not the author of his own biography. Known as one who is as part of the invention as he is the invented, Dylan’s modern interviews seem to be clear cut, sincere and at times unaware of his roll in his controversies. Yet it is hard for anyone to believe that his ‘plugged’ performance at a certain high-profile folk festival could actually go well. This reviewer suspects Dylan calculatedly fired this particular tear gas canister, but didn’t know exactly how awful it would end up. Hero Seeger threatened to take an axe to the power cables to shut down the racket. Impromptu folk set was the only thing to calm the furor.

This film doesn’t always give you the fair and balanced Bob. Glimpses are apparent; his rather opportunistic relationship with Joan Baez hints at his reputation as a cold womanizer. His less than lucid moments are captured on film, betraying the times and certain chemical reliance. Still, you never actually feel like you’re being let in on the real Bob, whatever that might be. Maybe that’s the point. Real people don’t last as long, but the illusion you create, the buttons you press and the toes you mash are forever.

 

As impressive as this three hour, two disc set is, it falls slightly short of what I’d hoped for. As someone who came to Dylan without all the idolatry, I didn’t expect to suddenly find myself under a spell or anything, but I did assume to find a connection to the man. However, as the documentary closes on his show in England, yet another firefight with an audience, I was turned off by his petulance. In his zeal to not be The Voice Of A Generation, he had become rather much a jerk, and his fans degenerated into jerks in turn, alternating between following the man through hell and putting him through it alone. Impressive for not being a whitewash love-fest, as some of PBS’ American Masters projects can sometimes become, it is still not completely forthcoming and that nether region makes “No Direction Home” fascinating but not entirely satisfying.


Release Date: September 20, 2005
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Format: DVD
Website: www.bobdylan.com


Chapter Listing:

Blowin' In The Wind / Girl Of North Country / Man Of Constant Sorrow / Mr Tambourine Man / Love Minus Zero ~ No Limit / Like a Rolling Stone / One Too Many Mornings / Unused Promotion Spot for "Positively 4th Street" / "I Can't Leave Her Behind" - Work in Progress in Hotel Room.


 


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