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Portrait of the artist as a young man. In spring, 1965, Bob Dylan, 23, a pixyish troubador, spends three weeks in England. Pennebaker's camera follows him from airport to hall, from hotel room to public house, from conversation to concert. Joan Baez and Donovan, among others, are on hand. It's the period when Dylan is shifting from acoustic to electric, a transition that not all fans, including Baez, applaud. From the opening sequence of Dylan holding up words to the soundtrack's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Dylan is playful and enigmatic. Written by
Several scenes in "Don't Look Back" were parodied, shot for shot, in Tim Robbins' film "Bob Roberts". These include the "Wife of the Sheriff of Nottingham" scene, and the segment in which Joan Baez is singing "Percy's Song" while Dylan composes on a typewriter in the background. In "Bob Roberts", Tim Robbin's is updating his investment portfolio on his computer while his lover sings about "Marching For Ourselves". Other unmistakable references include the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" parody and the motorcycle "accident". See more »
The documentary starts off well enough, Bob's famous alley video of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in which beat poet Allen Ginsberg is seen gesticulating in the background. Then we see Bob and company arriving at Heathrow airport in London, prophetically singing "London Bridges falling Down" as they walk in. During this scene we see the first contradiction of the movie's main character. A passer-by who lights one of Bob's smokes asks him about what is different about him this tour, why is he so popular this time around in England. Bob brushes it off by indicating that he has no idea he is so popular and sort of indicating that he does not keep up with those mundane things. He then spends a lot of time in the film doing exactly that, stopping conversation to ask where he is placed in the charts and in reading his press.
It's hard to know how to take Bob Dylan in this documentary. Many of the interviews shown are ones given on the fly just before he goes on stage, and a certain amount of pre-show jitters and nervous reaction is probably to be expected. I would not want to interview a musician just before they are set to perform on strange stages in a foreign country. His interviews come across as a person who has been doing way too much of what we, in fact, see Bob doing all through the film, reading his own press clippings and being very impressed with what he finds. He comes across as a person who thinks he understands all, but is too deep to be understood in turn. So deep, in fact, that mere mortal reporters are not even worth taking the time to explain things to. He wastes the reporter's and the film audience's time playing verbal games, quibbling over choics of words in questions and in general coming across as far more self-important than he really is. This can be seen as anti-establishment, it can also be seen as being a plain old pain in the butt just because you can, to entertain your buddies.
Donovan is there, and is a presence from the start of the film. Bob is very aware of him, has been told that Donovan plays better than he does. Donovan was the British version of Bob and, at times, sold better than Bob did. They finally meet and trade songs, Bob sarcastically choosing to sing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" right at Donovan. Joan Baez is there for a portion of the movie, beautiful and ignored by Bob and his entourage. Albert Grossman comes across as a bull in a China shop in England where the genteel older gentlemen who still handled promotion were absolutely no match for Grossman's New York tough guy ways. We see him on the phones, milking every last dollar he can from promoters.
Highly recommended documentary. For what it is worth, besides his music, this is about as close as anyone ever got to Bob Dylan. The film makers were wise in not asking any questions or directing anything, but just in letting Bob talk.
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