Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Scorsese’s ‘Rolling Thunder’, Part One

I consider myself a fairly normal bloke (or ‘bleeerk’, as the man himself would have it in ‘Don’t Look Back’), but I appear to have at least ten books on Bob Dylan, very many of his albums in various formats, and three DVDs about him, ‘Don’t Look Back’ itself, Martin Scorsese’s wonderful ‘No Direction Home’ from 2005, and  Murray Lemer’s account of the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, ‘The Other Side of the Mirror’. This is a lot of Dylan, but hardly excessive, given the adulation his fans how shown over the nearly six decades since his first CBS album of 1962.

So, onto Scorsese’s latest Dylan adventure, ‘Rolling Thunder Review: a Bob Dylan Story’, which I managed to catch up with last night, and feel obliged to comment on, given the attention that I have given his Bob-ness over the years. The first thing to mention/warn people about is that the title is a slight give-away to the fact that the film is not as cinema verite as the earlier films mentioned. As with other Dylan films, most notoriously his own ‘Renaldo and Clara’, there are fictional characters (’masks’), convincingly extrapolated figures from the bard’s past, who could quite possibly existed in different avatars, who appear regularly in the narrative. The live in concert Dylan is here seen performing in ‘white face’ paint, looking like he’s put on sun protective cream, but which is apparently either an influence from the American band Kiss (one of whose members was allegedly ‘going out at the time with’ Dylan’s violinist Scarlet Rivera) or from kibuki, the Japanese ritual dance-drama) The extremes of Gene Simmons and Noh Theatre seem to represent this film well, consisting as it does of extensive footage of the Rolling Thunder Revue American tour of 1975..

This film could be subtitled ‘Bi-Centennial Blues’ as the film seems to trying to make a point about the USA at the time of its two-hundredth birthday, but that would be inaccurate. It’s basically another film about the charisma of Bob Dylan, and everything else is secondary. Scorsese has proved to be enamoured of rock performance excess - see previous work like ‘The Last Waltz’ (possibly best remembered for its shot of a huge cocaine rock up Neil Young’s nostril) and the Rolling Stones own ‘revue-type’ shows from 2006, ‘Shine A Light’. The latter band were surely immortalised by the shots of Robert de Niro entering a night club to the strains of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in the director’s 1973 ‘Mean Streets’?

Here, he explores, or just sets up for examination, Dylan the Enigma, oblique and opaque as in 1975, just as he was in 65/66, but, by the time of the filming of 2018(?), the ‘manigma’ is much more forthcoming and literal, less guarded and defended by non-sequitors and loose associations and such like. It’s not hard to see why he was like this in the past, surrounded as he was by wall-to-wall sycophants  and hanger-on, in ‘Rolling Thunder’ just as he was in ‘Don;t Look Back’, with the Bobby Neuwirth of 1965 being replaced by the Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman of exactly ten years later. Staying sane with some sort of realistic self-awareness must be next-to-impossible in those sort of circumstances.

More to come

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby