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
Amidst the morass of irrationality, antinomianism, and sanctimony that is The Sixties (celebrated, for example, in "Hair" and "A Hard Day's Night"), "Don't Look Back" is refreshingly, almost cathartically, lucid and morally serious. There isn't a conversation that isn't intelligent on at least one side. Dylan's discussions with and about musicians and poets sparkle with a thirst for poetic and musical expression. The music is passionate, serious, and enjoyable.
About the competitive and business aspects of music, Dylan is game and reasonable. His manager, without screaming or hostility, tries to hold the BBC to, apparently, previously implied promises they are backing away from on the grounds of a contrary general policy. There are no implausible pretenses to asceticism.
Dylan never attacks anyone weak or who does not deserve it. Members of Dylan's entourage who do things that are dangerous or wantonly destructive, such as throwing a glass out the window, are sought out for reprimand. A hanger-on who tries to coopt Dylan to the idea that the two of them are superior for, well, I'm not sure for what, is well flustered by Dylan's Socratic questioning of that superiority. Young fans are put at ease, treated gently, and, in a way that obviates their awe, probed for reactions to his music.
Two instances reflect badly on Dylan. He is suddenly hostile to a Time magazine reporter, and insists that he should not be called a folk singer. The reporter is taken aback and exasperated (notwithstanding that the claim is accurate for sufficiently narrow definitions of "folk"). He doesn't argue, but behind the eyes you can see a quick mental retrenchment. The reporter gingerly tries a new tack, and salvages interesting and perceptive impressions. Talk about a bravura performance. More troubling is a member of the Animals going uncriticized for opening a bottle with a hotel piano. Does Dylan let pass from a star what he would justly rebuke in an ordinary person? It happened behind Dylan's back. Maybe he was unaware of it.
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