Portrait of an artist as a young man. Roughly chronological, using archival footage intercut with recent interviews, a story takes shape of Bob Dylan's (b. 1941) coming of age from 1961 to 1966 as a singer, songwriter, performer, and star. He takes from others: singing styles, chord changes, and rare records. He keeps moving: on stage, around New York City and on tour, from Suze Rotolo to Joan Baez and on, from songs of topical witness to songs of raucous independence, from folk to rock. He drops the past. He refuses, usually with humor and charm, to be simplified, classified, categorized, or finalized: always becoming, we see a shapeshifter on a journey with no direction home. Written by
In our age of universal celebrity, where we know everything that everyone famous thinks (or, more usually, does not think), it's refreshing to rediscover how interesting it can be to hear from someone whose achievements are great but who rarely speaks about them. Bob Dylan has given an extensive interview to Martin Scorcese for Scorcese's film about his emergence from the folk scene and his subsequent "betrayal" of that scene when he went electric: it's absorbing to watch, although, in the end, Bob doesn't actually say that much specific. However, the interview is complemented by a selection of other distinguished talking heads and most crucially, a rich selection of archive footage, going back to Dylan's very first days as a performer. What one notices is just how young he was: the depth and sophistication of even his earliest music can blind one, listening on record, to the age of the performer producing it. He also comes across as playful, self-confident and quite naturally baffled by some of idiocy going on around him: far from seeming incomprehensibly moody, Dylan actually appears as sane as anyone could be at the centre of such attention. It's the music, though, that is really the key to this film, with a rawness and edge, as well as a cleverness, that is still unsurpassed today (and this comment applies equally to the acoustic and the electric material). Since 1966 when the film ends, Dylan has continued to tour and write occasionally great songs; but the body of work that he produced in the early to mid 1960s stands clear for its amazing quantity and quality. If nothing else, 'No Direction Home' stands as clear testament to that achievement.
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