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If you're a Dylan fan and can track down this hard to find movie, it's
worth the effort. The film is a documentary on Dylan's tumultuous and
historic 1966 tour of Europe with the Band - the one where he was roundly
booed and reviled for "going electric" (and from which the recently
"Royal Albert Hall" album was taken). The legendary nature of these shows
alone makes it worth having a document of them.
Of course, as the title suggests, the film attempts to undercut somewhat its status as a tour momento - as a matter of fact, in characteristically inscrutable fashion, ol' Bob himself re-edited this movie (it was originally a straightforward concert film intended to be shown on ABC-TV) into a bizarre mish-mash of music, surrealism and cinema verite vignettes of Dylan and his companions' offstage antics. Anyone hoping for a straightforward musical presentation will likely be disappointed, as there are no complete numbers here - Dylan cuts to and away from the concert stuff with no fanfare and little warning. In fact, he cuts to and away from *everything* in this fashion: the whole movie is a jittery and jerkily edited affair, plopping the viewer down in situations and, before you even know where you are (much less its significance), it's off to somewhere else. The places in the movie mostly consist of backstage scenes or hotel room jam sessions, as well as some traipsing around the local spots of interest in different towns - but all done without any narration, without any context, and with barely any intelligible dialogue. For anyone who liked Don't Look Back, the "officially" released documentary of Dylan's previous tour of England, know that this movie stands in relation to that one as does Magical Mystery Tour to A Hard Day's Night in the Beatles' canon. Which is to say, Eat the Document is the spaced out, incomprehensible, and amateurishly assembled cousin to that groundbreaking and more "respectable" first film.
And yet. . . This would all be pretentious garbage if it weren't for the fact that, awkwardness and all, Dylan *does* achieve something here - something which is perhaps more interesting than a "straightforward" documentary could ever be. He manages to capture something of the stoned and discombobulated feeling of being on the road, the alternate craziness and tedium, as well as the numbing isolation. It's all a whirlwind of activity and incident, but everything passes before your eyes in a trippy collage which soon loses all significance. The film, annoying and seemingly random at first, begins to grow on you after awhile and gets you into a very bizarre and hallucinatory state of mind - a state of mind probably not too dissimilar from the one Dylan was in as he went out night after night to hostile audiences and poured forth his songs, then spent day after day licking his wounds in an acid and pot-induced fog (and the depiction of Dylan here - with his slurred speech, glazed eyes, and generally punch-drunk manner - leaves no doubt as to the substances which were coursing through his body). That's why I say the movie achieves more than a conventional documentary would; sure, it gives us no "facts" and doesn't seek to "explain" anything, but it accomplishes something far more elusive - it allows us a glimpse inside the mind of its creator. Just like Dylan always does in the best of his music.
And just like that music, the film is hypnotic - and it achieves its effects precisely by refusing to follow proscribed rules and conventions. To be sure, it's no masterpiece (and is not to the world of film what, say, "Mr. Tambourine Man" or "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" are to music) but to anyone who's really interested in Dylan it is a fascinating and entirely successful presentation nonetheless. Of course, if you're really interested in Dylan, you're most likely the type of person who can appreciate the sheer oddness and experimentation of his approach here, and are willing to be patient and have no preconceived expectations about what a Bob Dylan "document" should look like. If you can't meet him halfway, this probably won't be for you. Me, I've watched it several times now, and it always takes me to a new place each time.
Oh and by the way, even though none of them are complete, the concert sequences here *are* powerful, and a great deal of fun besides - not least because Dylan himself seems to be enjoying them so much. He bounces and jostles around, grooving to the tune and absolutely ecstatic (in his own laid-back way, of course) at being a part of this colossal sound. His appearance here - with the full shock of frizzy hair, the mod-style sixties wardrobe, and that goofy yet sinister "I'm hipper than you'll ever be" grin (not to mention those cool Ray-Bans shades he wears whenever he's offstage) - is still the dominant image people have in their mind when the name "Bob Dylan" is spoken. It's nice and hugely gratifying, then, to have real life footage to correspond to that image. Imperfect though it might be, Eat the Document is nevertheless the only such video snapshot of that time period we have. That alone should make it sacred to Dylan freaks and scholars everywhere.
For the full effect, it's best to watch this one in the late night/early morning hours, when your mind's a little more loopy and your judgement a little less sharp. You know, the "jingle-jangle mornin'" Just give yourself over to it, and I guarantee Dylan will be leading you through the "smoke rings of your mind" and down "the foggy ruins of time" before you even know what hit you.
A PREFACE: IF this (admittedly refried) print which I had the pleasure
of viewing had even one (1) complete song from the live set of Dylan
and the Hawks, it would have earned an extra star. Also, I will refrain
from including the 'limousine scene' with Dylan and Lennon from my
review, as it was never Pennebaker's intent, so far as I can determine,
to include it.
OK, so if the point of this movie was that 'Ol Bob went through some crazed times during the British tour of 1966, I don't think anyone, including Bob Himself, could have spared that impression from being salvaged from any amount of footage. A previous reviewer noted that the performed songs bear little resemblance to their studio prototypes here...
Yes, the old folky tunes ('Baby Let Me Follow You Down' is a great example) are indeed verging on swirly psychedelic territory at this point, and I must confess that I like these versions better... this movie is a perfect companion piece to THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL 4 - THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL (live Dylan , and is best enjoyed as such...
As for Bob's bad behavior and film editing, well, guess you'd have to be a musician to appreciate the context or something if you can't figure that out... this is 1966 we're seeing here for crissakes... and Bob is looking, acting, and possibly sounding not far off here from Syd Vicious of the Sex Pistols ten years later (see 'FILTH AND THE FURY')... Give granddad some credit, will'ya! If much of this has been left irreperably on the cutting-room floor, too bad, so sad, but this is enough to tell the story...
This Document got chewed. Amazing it survived at all.
Absolutely for fans only, this is a documentary of a Dylan tour made by a camera held in a very shaky hand. Eat the Document would make a good, but probably unwatchable, triple feature with Neil Young's Journey Through the Past and The Stones' Cocksucker Blues, a sixties triptych painted on broken windowpanes after a night of very bad drugs. Dylan's attempt at deconstructing or subverting or whatever he was trying to do to his own myth here says a lot about the era and leaves the artist as enigmatic as he ever has been, with the usual alternation between sublime poetry and clunking misfires. Still, there are some fine moments -- the droning duet with Johnny Cash, as two generations of bad boys create an otherworldly disharmony, the glimpses of the Band at the peak of their magic, the faces of the young Brits waiting in line for the shows, desperate to be at a scene they were determined not to dig. The tape I saw was followed by a harrowing ten minute outtake of Dylan and John Lennon riding in the back of a limo, the camera focused unflinching (and often unfocused) on them as they mumble their way through a thick purple haze -- sure proof that no one is as clever as he thinks he is on drugs.
This was originally shot by celebrated cine-verite' film-maker D.A.
Pennebaker as a follow-up to his earlier classic Bob Dylan documentary
about his UK tour of 1965, DON'T LOOK BACK (1967); for the record,
Pennebaker later also made other notable rockumentaries, namely the
all-star MONTEREY POP (1968) and David Bowie's ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE
SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973). This new film was meant to be a visual record
of Dylan's European tour of 1966 where he was unveiling in public his
highly controversial, rockier new image; during his live performances,
he was being supported by The Hawks (the same musicians who later found
fame as The Band). In the middle of shooting, Dylan suffered his
notorious motorcycle accident and, once he recovered, decided to take
over the footage and, with the help of an associate Howard Alk, re-edit
it himself; the end result was summarily rejected as "incomprehensible"
by the ABC TV channel, which had commissioned it as part of their
"Stage '66" show, and was never officially released.
What should have been a precious document of an extraordinary time in musical history and in the evolution of one of the 20th century's most influential artists, became a uniquely intimate (and embarrassing) portrayal of the jazzed-up images going through a brilliant mind overtaken by substance abuse! Sure, Dylan does get to perform some of his best songs of the period ("Ballad Of A Thin Man", "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", "Like A Rolling Stone", etc.) on camera but, as dictated by the wholly jumbled structure of the movie, no complete rendition is ever heard. Likewise, the supremely arrogant figure that Dylan cut during his press conferences comes through as well as do the feelings of the disgruntled fans horrified by the new-fangled "rubbish" that their treacherous former idol has been heaping on them. Thankfully, there are also glimpses of Dylan in his quieter moments: reading on the tour bus or composing songs with Robbie Robertson in his hotel room.
Still, at the end of the day, this is one big missed opportunity: although footage of the infamous Manchester Free Trade Hall concert (later issued in its entirety on CD) is shown and was subsequently to reappear in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary, NO DIRECTION HOME the tell-tale "Judas!" cry is not heard! Similarly, Dylan is shown separately rehearsing with Johnny Cash in the studio and 'partying' in a taxi with John Lennon but, truly, asking for context here would have been, as The Beatles would say it, "all too much". Actually, I later found some excruciating 20 minutes of footage of the latter ride on "You Tube" and, for all of Lennon's nervous clowning, the sight of a whacked-out-of-his-skull Dylan and his consequent ramblings were hard to take. I do not mind knowing that Dylan was aided by illicit substances in creating his first landmark rock albums (it goes with the territory, after all) but I do take exception at the fact that there exists this wretched-looking and worse-sounding artefact that quite literally (and from the very first shot!) rubs our noses in that fact!!
P.S. Two fellow film-buff friends Michael Elliott (a Dylanologist) and Joe Karlosi (a Beatlemaniac) had totally opposite views on this one; my own rating lies somewhere in between but, knowing that even Elliott hated Dylan's 4-hour RENALDO AND CLARA (1978) has made me postpone that planned viewing of it at least until Dylan's 75th birthday! The lengthy Scorsese documentary also had to go due to time constrictions, as well as the latest cut of Sam Peckinpah's PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973) but I still intend paying tribute to Dylan (who turns 70 on in two days' time) with three more films before the month is out!
Eat the Document (1972)
*** (out of 4)
Bob Dylan "directed" this look at his 1966 concert tour through Europe, which shows him at his musical best and also shows that many of the fans want folk and not rock. Only Dylan knows if we'll ever see the complete, original version of this thing but what's left here is pretty interesting even though you can't help but wish Dylan had left more of the music in. The film pretty much tries to capture what Dylan was seeing at the time and on that level the film works well. There are still plenty of musical performances including Ballad of a Thin Man, Like a Rolling Stone and various others including a duet with Johnny Cash. What Dylan also does is create a great look at a mind altered, stoned view of touring, which adds a great deal of surreal nature to the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...just some trivia...
There are several scenes from Denmark (scene 35) is from a small drive-by coffee-stand on their way from Copenhagen to Elsinore, a sign saying "Stop o g tag en k o p" (Stop and have a cup)- the joke is on Dylan, because k o p is not a cop.
You then see a beautiful crosscut from somewhere in England, where Robbie and Dylan goes into a labyrinth of tunnels to - (scene 51) being from the castle Kronborg (of Shakespeare's Hamlet fame) in Elsinore, Denmark.
We see some people standing along a road, when D.A.Pennebaker makes a fast pan, cutting to another fast pan to Dylan and Manuel, climbing the fortress of Kronborg, while a dog is barking. There is a boy and his girlfriend, sitting on a bench on the ramparts, whom Dylan and Manuel addresses (trying to buy some service from her, actually)- behind them you see Kronborg Castle...
I consider myself a fan of Bob Dylan within moderation, and I
thoroughly enjoyed the previous documentary about his earlier European
tour, DON'T LOOK BACK. I'd always heard (don't know if it's true or
not) that Dylan himself did not want EAT THE DOCUMENT released, and
after finally getting to suffer through the entire thing, it's not hard
for me to understand why. Smart move there Zimmy - much smarter than
anything you put across in the film itself. There is practically no
point to watching this film, as it's a mind-melting mishmash of sounds
and images that never come together to allow the viewer to get a grip
on them. We want to hear what Dylan is saying in his arrogant press
conferences, and we'd like to be able to enjoy his song lyrics. But the
inane editing of this mess (supposedly by Bob Dylan himself - no wonder
-) leaves you completely disillusioned and unsatisfied. It's a
distorted trip into the scattered brain of a drugged out poet/rock
star, and although some try to rationalize that this in itself is some
sort of achievement, it's a journey I could easily have done without.
The focal point of the film, as I've tried to surmise through all the dense fog, is Bob's disastrous 1966 tour of Europe, the one where he "went electric" and offended all the folk purists. In between all the haze we get to see a few angry faces in the crowds calling Dylan a "traitor", and those are only a few of the more coherent snippets scattered amongst all the debris. Songs are continually cut off midway, and even as early as now it seems Zimmy had begun altering the arrangement of some of them, thus making them too unlike their album counterparts to really get into.
Dylan makes a fool of himself throughout this film, and it's a good picture of how fame, money and a little power can go to someone's head and be wasted on them. Nowhere is this more in evidence than during a 15 minute "outtake" that's sometimes tagged onto copies of EAT THE DOCUMENT... it features two great legends, Dylan and then-Beatle John Lennon, riding in the back of a limousine. A terrific opportunity, right? Wrong. Because Mr. Dylan seems more interested in getting smashed out of his skull on something or other while Lennon - no stranger to drugs himself though much more composed on this occasion - comes across as cool, while his co-passenger Mr. Dylan is slurring his words, making little sense, and gradually becoming so ill to the point of needing to vomit into the camera. Through all of this, John Lennon attempts a little humor to snap Dylan out of it, but it's no use; Bob is just too zoned out to focus. A real shame. Here are two great legends together for the camera, but Dylan doesn't seem to be interested in putting this historic meeting to good use. THIS is drugs, kids -- this is your brain on drugs. This nauseated "limo ride" is not actually part of the "finished" film (it only includes several seconds of it), and that's too bad, as it's certainly the most fascinating thing shot, though for all the wrong reasons. * out of ****
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