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 ... See full summary »
EAT THE DOCUMENT (Bob Dylan and, uncredited, Howard Alk, 1972) **
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!
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