I watched Martin Scorsese’s bio picture on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, last night. 3 1/2 hours long, the movie covers about five years of Bob Dylan’s life, from 1961 to 1966.
There are some parts that I really enjoyed. How Bob Dylan handled the press back then. How he refused the labels that so many wanted to place on him. The quiet exploration and genius as it unrolled in those early years. The critics who would come to his show to boo his rock and roll sets. His early struggles to get the record studios to pay attention to his art.
Strangely though the film left me feeling less than satisfied at the end. I felt that I knew Bob Dylan no more than before I watched the picture. Which I suppose is part of Bob’s deal.
When I saw Dylan perform at the New Orleans Jazzfest 2 years ago (photo above) he was quite different than any of the other performers. Where as most performers were 50% music 50% showmanship, Dylan was 100% music and 0% showmanship. Dylan came out, sat at his piano, and then played with his band and sang for about two hours. He wore sunglasses and looked at the audience only one time, briefly, when a lyric called for it. Other than that it was as though his audience was not even there. Staring straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge their existence.
I was somewhat disappointed by Dylan’s Jazzfest performance because there really was only one shot to get of the entire performance. It was ironic to me that after three songs security guards kept telling people to put their digital SLRs down when the shot that they’d get was the exact same one the entire performance.
A master of music who showed no face.
And that’s how I felt after watching a 3 1/2 hour documentary on the man. The documentary could have been two hours of course. Half the documentary was pretty much wasted film in my opinion. Three minutes of hearing some person that knew Bob Dylan briefly back in 1963 singing a capella Irish songs at a bar. Way too much footage interviewing Pete Seeger about anything but Bob Dylan, etc.
A few months back, by contrast, I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s Tom Petty bio picture, Running Down a Dream. This documentary was far more engaging in my opinion. The documentary of course covered more than just five years of Petty’s life and it left you feeling like you knew Tom Petty a lot better than before you saw the film. About his film, Bogdanovich was quoted as saying, “if Scorsese can spend three hours on six years of Bob Dylan’s life, we can spend 3 1/2 hours on 30 years of Tom Petty’s life, and we did.” Bogdanovich’s picture was the better of the two in my opinion.
Bob Dylan’s always been a big inspiration of mine. His Blood on the Tracks album is my favorite album of all time. More of my photograph titles come from lyrics by Bob Dylan than perhaps any other artist. His music has had a profound impact on me. I used to collect Bob Dylan bootleg CDs. Mostly live performance stuff. Some studio out take stuff. I think I have 60 or so Dylan bootlegs ripped at this point. And I suppose his music is about as much as anyone ought to expect to get from the man. By the way, if you are a Dylan fan and haven’t checked out his lyrics website, definitely check it out. Dylan has generously provided a site at bobdylan.com that not only gives you all the lyrics to all of his songs, but also allows you to do comprehensive searching of his entire library of songs.
Someday maybe someone will do a better bio documentary on Dylan. Scorsese is the master film maker though and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than him. The film made me wonder how much of not getting to know Bob Dylan simply was Dylan not truly giving of himself in that way to Scorsese. Maybe someday will make a better documentary on Dylan without him actually being involved. Maybe not. As a total tangent, it was interesting to see Apple Computer getting into the film production game as the corporate underwriter for the film.
I do like this genre of documentary rock and roll though and am happy to see our time’s greatest directors, folks like Scorsese and Bogdanovich, making films like this. Of course it begs the question which musical act is going to be honored by which director next. Personally I’m hoping for Quentin Tarantino’s film on James Taylor… but only for the sheer lunacy of what a picture like that might look like.