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
There's good about this. It is extremely well done. It is endowed with a breath as film, and I suppose we can credit Steve Jobs with assuring that only first class talent was used. Among that talent was Scorsese, a master, certainly in the act of shaping something with a natural rhythm.
That competence makes this absolutely essential viewing. I am not putting it on my essential films list because as a film it doesn't merit it. But if you, dear reader, were not there, actually there as part of the events depicted, you need to see this as a social document. The world then was as different to now in the flows of energy than any other time in the past 500 years is from now,
And this man was every bit as powerful as this hints. More, and that's part of the problem.
The problem is that Scorsese decided to make an understandable story. So he pruned and pruned and pruned until what was left depicts a recognizable arc with extreme clarity, so clear it appears as if the life were invented for this telling.
And sure enough, we get a crisp story about a man who insinuated himself into a Greenwich Village crowd, and absorbed the poetic beat flavor of the time but not the fecklessness. He adopted the guise of a protest singer to get his foot in the door, then assumed the role for many years as our premier poet.
Martin brings us three acts: boy to New York and maturity, Bobby to eminence as a folksinger, Dylan's adventures in rock in spite of adversity. Perhaps the first act isn't as clean because the footage feels more like real history instead of a scripted life.
No mention is made of drugs, or his family (though "Visions of Johanna" is featured). Nothing of his well known exploits with multiple mystical cosmologies. No sex at all. No Beatles or Brian Wilson. All elided in the name of clarity. Well, fine.
And the thing only addresses the first couple really interesting years and avoids the next six or seven where he pounded us with changes and challenges far exceeding those depicted here.
I am reviewing everything there is of Dylan for the upcoming "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan" which will feature both Cate and Julianne. It should be something special, something challenging and not artificially straightened like this is.
Until then, view this not as Scorsese intended, or as the confused audiences he goes to extremes to depict. Try to view this as someone who was engaged at the time, someone who knew that stronger constructions than "we shall overcome" would be needed to negotiate a way through the world of human brambles and flowers. Try to actually submerse yourself in the art and forget the story of the artist as he would have had it at the time.
It could still save you.
Or if not, look at this as a film which presented Scorsese with a huge problem. Here we have a brilliant young man of whose singular brilliance all the interviewees attest. And then we have recent interviews with the man himself, dull, inarticulate, even stupid. The conventional shaping of the thing would explain by saying he destroyed his gift through drugs and related excesses like fundamentalist religion.
That would be the obvious route, but it complicates the story Scorsese wants to tell. It complicates it simply, because Marty has another image in mind. And it would complicate it indirectly because then you'd have a simple success, drugs, redemption storyspine that you'd have to escape.
So what to do? The solution is to build in a long, otherwise irrelevant stream of press interviews where stupid questions are asked over and over. Stupid, always stupid ones and when faces are shown, it is clear they are those of dolts. Then the recent interview footage of Dylan is tied to that. Surely we don't expect answers to similar questions. It is the choice of a master storyteller to channel our curiosity so. It makes for a clean, Scorsese-type character map.
But if you weren't there, it will cheat you out of the ambiguities and complexities of the real story and that you can find in any Dylan song from "Tambourine Man" to "Lily and the Jack of Hearts."
Still, watch it. But do so lucidly. We can only hope that Jobs wants to tell the rest of the story.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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