Open Thread: No Direction Home

by Greg Call

Anybody catch Scorsese’s Dylan doc on PBS over the last couple of nights? I thought it was amazing: loads of terrific unseen footage, revealing interviews (including with Bob himself), wonderful sound, and perfectly edited.  Even my wife, who can’t stand Dylan’s music, couldn’t look away. What’dya think?

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11 thoughts on “Open Thread: No Direction Home

  1. I didn’t watch it, but I recently got the new Garbo DVD set from Warner Home Video, and it includes a new documentary (made by Kevin Brownlow!) about Garbo, with an original orchestral score by Carl Davis! Sensational stuff.

  2. Though there were lots of highlights, one had to be the concert footage from ’66 where some righteous folkie shouts “TRAITOR!” and Dylan responds “I don’t believe you…you’re a liar,” tells the band “play it f–kin loud!” and blazes through “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s been passed around on bootlegs forever, but it was spine-tingling to see the cleaned-up footage with some context.

    My only complaint about this film is that it wasn’t released in theatres. Four hours or not, it’s a travesty that it can’t be seen on the big screen.

  3. One weird effect the documentary had on me–I found myself agreeing with the folks in the audience booing at and bitching about Dylan, following the concert footage at the beginning of Monday night’s installment. Dylan, by 1965, was so bored, so coked, so unhappy, and so dismissive and deeply wretched about his own position that he apparently couldn’t perform without a huge sense of contempt for his own music. That opening performance of “Like a Rolling Stone” was just atrocious–lazy, off-key, sloppy, unenthusiastic garbage. The man really wanted to wreck himself by that point, didn’t he?

  4. I haven’t (sadly) been able to see this but I will get around to it for sure. It has been advertised in a variety of bus stops in the area where I live …

  5. Alan: Thanks!

    Russell: You mention “coked,” which is interesting, because my wife and I both thought that the total absence of any reference to drugs in the film was pretty conspicuous. That scene where Johnny Cash and Dylan are doing a duet of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” especially. Both of those guys looked totally blitzed.

    But I guess the film evoked more empathy from me than it did from you. It showed *why* he was so bored, etc. (the self-righteous strictures of folk music and “topical” songs; the inane questions from the press, who had no idea what they are talking about; the fawning over him as “voice of a generation,” despite his protestation that he’s just a “song and dance man”; the sense of entitlement from the fans (one says “If you don’t give me your autograph I’ll boo you)). Sure, he was a jerk to Joan Baez and is a pretty prickly fellow for the most part, but I still felt nothing but pity for all those uptight Pitchfork-forerunners who were calling Dylan a “sell-out” and “Judas.”

  6. Oh sure, I don’t deny that Dylan was being stifled by the world around him, and one of the virtues of the documentary is that it opened up that world. But to the casual folk fans, not the self-righteous ones, all they saw was a great artist ruining himself. (A tragedy: because such manifest self-destruction and retreat became the dominant story amongst the often know-nothing critical press, it colored the reception of Dylan’s subsequent work for decades to come, one result of which a lot of (occasionally excellent) “middle period” stuff, like his Christian and gospel albums, were written off as more nonsense, when they actually were anything but.)

  7. It was a really good documentary. Lots of social history there along with the music. I understand there is even more footage on the DVD which was released just before they showed the film on PBS. I couldn’t stand Dylan for a long time. His whole presentation bothered me: the ripping off of Woody Guthrie’s image, his god-awful voice, the arrogance he sometimes projected. But then one day I heard Roxy Music’s magnificent cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and loved it, so I decided to listen to Dylan with more patience. Then I heard him singing his great song “Every Grain of Sand” which motivated me to seek out more of his stuff. I guess you could say I am now a reluctant fan, but I still have to look past a lot of stuff (the worshipful tone of Scorsese’s film bothered me, for example.)

  8. Russell: I have no problem with folk fans being disappointed in a sloppy, unenthusiastic performance. But that’s not what was going on. During the 1966 tour, for example, he would play an acoustic set and then an electric set, and the booing would start when he plugged in (even though his most recent albums were all electric). It was pure snobbery, not a comment on quality. I don’t know how the decision to play rock music (and play it well, for the most part) was “ruining himself.” Also, if you missed it try to catch the second half of the film. It adds a lot more context to those 1965 shows, even if it doesn’t entirely negate your sympathy for the Peter Yarrow/Pete Seeger view of things.

  9. I saw much of it but managed to miss some as well. One frustrating aspect was that once a person had been shown once that night they never bothered to put their name on the screen again as they were speaking. For those of us that aren’t really familiar with all the personalities involved this made the show a bit harder to watch.

    I agree that the near complete silence on the subject of drug use was odd and strikes me as a flaw in the project. Still it was fascinating to see such a detailed examination of figure that is both an icon and deeply private.

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