Saturday, January 28, 2006


I'm not going to say much about this. Or maybe I will. My mind is numbed, I'm semi-coherent because I just finished watching Martin Scorsese's 3-and-a-half-hour Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, which could be called No Direction to Bob Dylan, or even more simply No Direction, because it was a very typically scattered mishmash musicdoc, quite similar to one I saw on Jimi Hendrix quite a few years ago only four times longer, where whenever the concert footage got gripping we were torn away to hear some old fart of a manager or bar owner or lover giving his or her take on how great the man was, how nothing like this had been heard before, etc. Here the dough was leavened by some interesting bits with Allen Ginsburg and Joan Baez and Dave Van Ronk . Dylan himself in his artistic career went in so many different directions I can see how it would be hard to put it all together in a coherent package.... to an extent. In fact though I think I heard three splices of "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"about ten minutes apart, because the editor probably forgot he had spliced that in before, and then decided, hey man, this is cool, sort of. Or that guy Scorcese? Whoever. Then there was that awkward scene shift to "three years earlier." Pretty shoddy, really.

One thing that struck me in the watching was how times have a-changed since "back then", how in the early to mid-sixties (even mid-seventies) in parts of NYC (not to mention London and Paris and Madrid and Santiago) there were folk clubs & coffeehouses on every block (I'm exaggerating, but there were a lot) and audiences of hundreds hung on to the edge of every word of what one lone person scratching the strings of one lone guitar was singing. I mean I felt like I was looking through a hole in the fence at vaudville in the 1890's.

It's interesting that Bob Dylan's first record didn't sell. That it sold like 2,500 copies. Today he would be dropped like a stone if ever picked up -- ibid for Bruce Springsteen and a dozen others whose first record didn't take off like a rocket. But this was before the artistic development departments were replaced by marketing departments run by MBA's. (Anyone who reads music mags has heard this rant before.) Now everybody's in a recording studio, a musician can get access to a million sampled sounds and even more effects on those sounds and beautiful mikes and reverbs, but tough it is to get regular access to an attentive audience or simply jam in a club to see what will come about and how it pans out with a crowd.

Yes, I could say great footage was to be had here -- obviously you're bound to get some great footage if your name is Martin Scorsese, and you can get access to any interview or interview subject you want. Some of the best footage came from a better earlier film, D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 documentary Don't Look Back. Perhaps the most intriguing bit was an interview with Allen Ginsburg, who described a very exciting scene where Dylan was down the hall with the Beatles, and a message came that he was supposed to go in there, and he went into the room and everyone was sitting "cold stone silent", defensive, even tongue-tied -- and he suddenly realized how young and naive they were. "It struck me," Ginsburg went on to say, "that so many of these guys at the summit of power, spiritual power, musical power, world fame, spiritual leadership -- it was June, '65 -- were so unsure of themselves in their minds and speech."

Nevertheless... I frankly found myself getting bored with the whole rehash, and Bob Dylan himself is anything but boring. In this film, we never got to know the man, nor how he came to write any of those amazing songs. The whole focus was on who he met to rise to the top in the music biz, and the famous change from acoustic to electric. What else is new? But expecting more may have been expecting too much. Dylan himself was famously unforthcoming. Considering how far beneath his intelligence so many of his interviewers have been, I can actually sympathize on that count. In his words, talking about his self-imposed absence from the stage for nearly 8 years, "I'd had it with the whole scene. Whether I knew it or didn't know it, I was looking to quit for a while.... people like you (nodding toward the interviewer), just being pressed and hammered and expected to answer questions... it's enough to make anybody sick, really."

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