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This epic is a mass amalgamation of three separate film-types that is, contrary to popular opinion, coherent and a unified whole. Bob Dylan is shown in concert, often masked, during the Rolling Thunder Revue. The film also features documentary footage, including Ruben "Hurricane" Carter's struggle against the forces that have imprisoned him. The third element is fictional "role-playing" footage with Bob Dylan in the guise of guitar-strumming Renaldo and his wife Sara as his companion Clara. Ronnie Hawkins takes on the role of Bob Dylan in these sequences. The film includes footage of a visit to the grave of Jack Kerouac, an Allen Ginsberg poetry reading and various friends and acquaintances, namely David Blue (playing pinball by a swimming pool), discussing experiences on the road. Written by
When the film was originally released, its screenings were extremely limited. The film received very many condemning reviews and many theaters refused the screenings. The film was cut from its original four-hour length to a two-hour length, and what was left was mostly concert footage. This version was shown in more theaters than the original director's cut. The original four-hour cut would appear on European television some time later, on Channel 4. See more »
The opening credits end with a minute-long title card reading "A Film by BOB DYLAN" directed after he is credited as writer and director. The closing credits are divided in three sections, separated by wide time gaps, played over a different artist performing. See more »
Bob Dylan plays Renaldo, his real life wife Sara plays Clara and Joan Baez, Dylan's long-time mistress, plays The Woman in White. This 1978 film features Dylan as director and it hit theaters with a huge bomb as critics tore it apart, fans didn't show up to see it and some theater owners refused to play it. Dylan later edited the film down to 122-minutes, which featured mostly concert stuff, but this version hasn't been seen since the original release. All of this was filmed during Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, which in my opinion featured Dylan's at his best and only ranking second behind the legendary 1966 tour. The gimmick of this tour was that Dylan, along with Baez, Jack Elliott, Bob Neuwirth and various others would tour around the country without announcing any dates. Instead, they'd simply have their tour bus stop and the concert would take place within the matter of days, if not on that day itself.
As far as a story goes, it's all over the place. We have the central story of Renaldo and Clara and the husband's affair with The Lady in White, which is clearly drawn off Dylan's own marital issues. We also have Ronnie Hawkins playing Bob Dylan with Ronne Blakley playing his wife with these segments centering on the price of being a legend. We also have other wide range of events with coverage of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter taking some of the running time, which this tour, with Dylan's song "Hurricane", was trying to bring awareness to his case.
I'm a die-hard Dylan fan but the first hour of this film is among the worst stuff ever put to film. The movie is downright self indulgent, self centered and very poorly directed. However, with that said, something happens during the later part of the film, which for about an hour, makes it somewhat entertaining. It's really hard to absolutely trash this film because the concert footage is very special and feature some great tracks. Dylan, appearing in whiteface, does some of his greatest stuff on this tour and that features the greatest versions of "It Ain't Me Babe" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". Both of these classic folk tunes are given the "rock-a-billy" treatment and I've yet to hear better versions. Dylan also plays more recent turns including a blazing version of "Iris", a heartbreaking version of "Sara" and the opening number "When I Paint My Masterpiece". You also have a very heartfelt and deeply emotional performance of "Just Like a Woman" and a great country version of "I Want You". Dylan fans will also be interested in a brief clip of "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", which is the only known performance of this song, although it can only be heard briefly in the background. We also get a cover of "House of the Rising Sun" and duets with Baez on "Blowin' in the Wind" and "I Shall Be Released".
Even with the great music, for the most part this film is a total washout as we're watching home movies for nearly four hours. There's no camera-work to speak of as the camera is simply all over the place and there's never any clear focus or shots set up. It appears everything was done with one take and the ugliness of the picture really comes through. However, I will add, that I've never seen a film like this so perhaps that's another positive for the film. There are countless scenes that come out of no where and really mean nothing including a very long sequence with Indians fighting over equal rights. We also get countless scenes of David Blue talking about the old days of the Village where Dylan and various others got their start. There are some interesting insights here but the footage just keeps going and going to the point where it gets boring. There's also footage with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter that is pretty interesting as we see him in jail, although none of the concert footage of Dylan performing at the prison is included (only news footage is currently available via bootlegs). There's some other nice stuff including the stage being set up, Dylan before and after shows as well as other sequences where we get to see Dylan being Dylan but I doubt anyone, outside of major fans, are going to sit through four hours of stuff just for these magical moments.
In the end, this film is a total disaster that only die-hard fans will enjoy. In fact, I'd bet most people couldn't get past the one hour mark with this thing, which is the reason this thing didn't stay in theaters over a week. The movie has been pulled by Dylan, which means the only way to see it are through bootlegs but who knows if Dylan will ever let the movie be released again. I'd certainly love to hear from him and what the film was trying to do but the closest we've come to this is an interview where Dylan said people should be stoned when they watch it. Sadly, I didn't have any reefer handy when i viewed the film so I can't comment on how true that statement is. Again, this is a very special period in Dylan's career but this documentary/film doesn't touch upon its greatness. The Rolling Thunder Revue would run into early 1976 before ticket sales turned bad and the West Coast tour was canceled all together. Thankfully Columbia released "Live 1975" as part of their Genuine Bootleg Series, which is highly recommended. Also available is the original live CD "Hard Rain", which also produced a TV show and an alternate version, which hasn't been released outside of bootlegs.
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