Bob Dylan and The Hawks (aka The Band) on their infamous 1966 "Judas" tour of the UK.Bob Dylan and The Hawks (aka The Band) on their infamous 1966 "Judas" tour of the UK.Bob Dylan and The Hawks (aka The Band) on their infamous 1966 "Judas" tour of the UK.
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.
- Mar 16, 2000