He is one of the most influential, inspiration and ground-breaking musicians of our time. Now, Academy Awardâ"¢ winning director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, 1990) brings us the extraordinary story of Bob DylanâEUR(TM)s journey from his roots in Minnesota, to his early days in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, to his tumultuous ascent to pop stardom in 1966.
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It's sort of a biblical prophecy.
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The archive footage provides context and interest but the lack of insight and discussion is a drawback considering the running time
The majority of people who watch a 200 minute documentary on Bob Dylan are more than likely going to be Dylan fans so I thought I would give it a try despite being rather on the fence in regards him. Some of his music lives up to his reputation whereas some other songs find me leaning towards those who (unfairly) just dismiss him as a nasal singer without any real talent or coherence. The film does little to change your mind because it pretty much tracks his career up till 1966 without providing a lot of insight or debate about his talent. Of course this is not a surprise and it is only right that the film charts more than debates, because this is not the place for the latter.
However for the casual viewer what is there to justify 200 minutes? Well, first of all I must admit that it is a bit of a job to get through some parts of it but generally what the film does is set Dylan in context. Those not raised during the period will usually struggle to understand the fuss about Bob Dylan because they (I) can't see him in the context of his surroundings and it is this that the film does well. By using lots of archive footage and memories from talking heads, the film presents the history well even if it could have done a better job of really explaining how important he was in the period, rather than just telling me that he was there.
In fact this lack of insight was a bit of a problem for me because, although there is much of interest, it is more of a record than a documentary. The footage will please fans and it is interesting but I must admit that I had hoped for me. Certainly the presence of Scorsese only comes through in the use of his voice once with so much stock footage I could not understand what the role of the "director" was in this case. I don't wish to completely dismiss the film but just to highlight that fans will certainly take more from this than those with a casual interest. However even fans might struggle with the lack of substance here because, with so much footage to cram in, there is little time for investigation. One very good example of this is the famous cry of "Judas" it was once the subject of a 60-minute radio documentary but here it is only played; understandable perhaps but it is unfortunately typical of the film. Dylan himself doesn't seem too bothered by the whole thing and his modern interviews at times resemble the footage of the interviews in the sixties where he looks bored and bemused by the inane questions.
Overall this is an interesting film but it is less a documentary and more a record of Dylan in his period. To this end it will please his fans but will probably provide little enlightenment for the casual viewer. Given that the film runs to 200 minutes, it should have done better to deliver plenty of archive footage but yet still have insight and real interest. It is a shame that, although it is very strong in the former, it is rather lacking in the latter.
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