on 31 December 2005
Along with Dylan's first (may there be more) part of his autobiography in the book "Chronicles", Bob has cooperated with Martin Scorcese on setting some of the record straight on his past.
Along with many long term Dylan fans we have suffered unsatisfactory biographies and conflicting interviews from the big Zee himself and finally we're getting some truth from the man himself. It's like we've had over 40 years of one sided information and now we're finally getting a bit of Mr Dylan's point of view.
It doesn't need saying that this is a must for all dedicated Dylan fans but it is also a good introduction for those new to Dylan's classic period. The coverage of Dylan's friends, colleagues and influences from his early years is exceptional.
I especially liked Joan Baez's contributions showing that she has finally come to terms with Bob's refusal to become a campaigner for human rights and civil lieberties. She now shows that she accepts that Bob was not driven in the same way as she and that their separation was in some ways inevitable.
The only negative is that we don't get complete video recordings of the concert footage in the DVD "performance" section. There is clearly a great archive of footage that is still waiting to be released, especially the 1966 tour, and I for one am still waiting for it!
on 23 February 2006
This documentary is really LONG, but it is more than WORTH watching. Why? Because it tells us a lot about Bob Dylan, or at least as much as Dylan himself is prepared to say for now.
“Part One” of “No direction home” goes from the late 1950´s to 1963, and deals with the place where Dylan grew, and the kind of music he liked. I found this specially interesting, as I hadn´t heard of Woody Guthrie, Tommy Makem, and others that had an enormous influence on Dylan. I enjoyed watching and hearing him as he developed as an artist, and changed accordingly.
“Part two” covers the period that goes from 1963 to 1966. It is very good, and has great footage of Dylan´s concerts, like “Part one”. The main difference between the two dvds probably is that the second one lacks the kind of explanation regarding the historical context that the first one has. All the same, it is enjoyable, and only obviously in fault when compared to “Part one”.
This documentary includes lots of footage of the young Dylan and comments made by the “old” Dylan, the person that young and gifted man grew up to be. Not only that, but there are also quite a few interviews of people who knew him at one moment or the other, and that help to shed some light on him. The interviews that involve Joan Baez are probably the most insightful regarding Bob Dylan´s character, and his refusal to be trapped in a role as symbol of the left.
I think that if there is a constant in Dylan´s career, it is probably the fact that he refuses to be pinned down, to be anything other than himself, and that is nothing less and nothing more than what he feels like being at the moment. “No direction home” shows that, and I think we should congratulate Martin Scorsese for that. So... thanks, Martin, but please bear in mind I really, really want to watch the sequel :)
on 8 November 2005
Just about the best thing ever on Dylan.I really began to wonder if there was anything left to learn about the man and then we get "Chronicles" and now this, with the man himself giving his first hand account of events all those years ago. And how refreshing to hear him so coherent and intelligible, and not taking himself too seriously either. There is some genuinely revealing stuff here from him and his contemparies, with Joan Baez's contributions especially interesting. Just loved her story of how he was so amused at the intellectual analyses of his lyrics when he had no idea what they meant! And it is great to have all that uninterrupted footage of some of his most outstanding performances to treasure, including the extended performances not shown on the TV programme. Can it get any better than this?
on 19 September 2007
No Direction home is a documentary over 2 discs charting the rise of Bob Dylan and his affect on music and the world.
Disc 1 is somewhat harder to watch, spending a lot of time talking to other musicians about the music scene in general, lots of live footage of other bands and not enough Dylan. While it is interesting it's more a history of folk music than a Dylan documentary.
Disc 2 follows on but features Dylan far more closely. The documentary includes a vast amount of archive footage that is fascinating to watch. Everything builds until Dylan eventually introduces electric performances to his sets and his fans cry out against him.
I have watched these discs and have a much greater appreciation for Dylan as a songwriter and performer.
on 21 December 2005
I must admit that I had very low expectations about this documentary when it was first presented on TV. His Bobness has always been extremely backwards at coming forwards and I expected a third-person analysis of his life based on research and interviews with contempories. I almost fell off my chair when I realised, from the get-go that Dylan was going to speak directly and honestly about his life and experiences.
It is much to Scorcese's credit that the interviewer never intrudes upon any contributions. There is no narrative, Dylan and others tell their stories in such a way that they flow together to create the fabric of Dylan's lifestory from his beginnings up until 1966. Scorcese captures Dylan at his most personal, even ordinary which does much to remind us that after all, he is just another human being.
In addition Scorcese reminds us by his choice of interviews of the myriad of important contempories who helped forge and shape Dylan's talent, including Joan Baez and Pete Seeger amongst others.
This package contains it all, direct from the horses mouth and supported by a cast of contempories who also speak without restraint (and to their credit, without rancour) about the most influential musician of the last part of the 20th century.
My only complaint is that Scorcese only takes us up to the watershed in Dylan's career forced on him by his biking accident in 1966. Although Dylan admits to us that he was fed up with the scene and needed a break from it at that point in time, an uninformed viewer might think that Dylan's career ended in 1966, although his fans appreciate that he has been continuously creative up to and including the present day.
I can only hope that what Scorcese has in mind is a "later years" documentary at some point in the very near future.
This documentary delivers on many different levels. A historical document, a trip down memory lane, an explanation of the importance and impact of one man, a reminder that 99% of what we think we know about our muscial icons is largely created by media hype and disinformation. This is the straight scoop and an essential contribution to our understanding of 'the man' and the evolution of contempory music over the last 40 years.
on 21 October 2006
Martin Scorsese's film No Direction Home, which I watched last night, provided an absorbing three and a half hours of insight into Bob Dylan's early life and his emergence into prominence and controversy in the mid sixties. I mention the duration of the movie because I can rarely sit and watch for so long without my attention wandering. Not in this film. Before remarking on the content of the film, it is worth considering Scorsese's direction. I recommend this film to anyone interested in watching or in making documentary film. The way in which archival material, concert footage and interview segments are integrated and paced is masterly. The film really tells a story and creates an atmosphere: I felt as though I was there. Scorsese's experience in making feature films has enriched his direction of this film. Although comparisons are silly, it may be his best film. It sent me back to The Last Waltz for comparison of his method.
The film's most valuable asset is Dylan's own recounting of his past, and the most striking point about it is how much interview time in Dylan's early years was wasted in asking often trite questions of this most intuitive mind. He rarely answered them, and often could only express his irritation of the questioner. Scorsese's film of the contemporary Dylan rarely presents the questions, content to record what he has to say. Hibbing, Minnesota is stripped bare. Even Dylan's evasiveness, when dealing with his more questionable behaviour to friends and colleagues, is revealing. There is a conflict between Scorsese's intention to make a coherent narrative and Dylan's lifelong habit of crossing borders and categories, throwing dust on his trail and refusing to be pigeonholed that adds an interesting tension to the viewing.
The main thrust of Scorsese's film is the impact of Dylan's crossover to electric instrumental accompaniment. Listeners then had become divided into self perceived groups, the folk 'purist', social conscience type and the mindless consumers of pop pap who just enjoyed the music, and Dylan outraged everyone by moving between these groups freely. His motives were neither pure nor particularly self aware. From the perspective of our own times the differences between these types of music seem less extreme: both were commercial entertainment; listening to a protest song was often a substitute for more committed action. Yet at the time the difference was important to those who were there. From the conflict that ensured, the boos and the cries of traitor, there would emerge something new in pop culture, the pop music artist, and Scorsese doesn't let us forget it. One disadvantage to this emphasis is that it focuses on the same period and phenomenon as Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, which is even quoted in Scorsese's film. The Pennebaker film (a masterpiece) has been available on DVD for some time, and most watchers of No Direction Home would be familiar with it (note the similar inspiration between the two titles).
The film reveals Dylan's background, and then moves on to an overview of the music he grew up listening to, from Hank Williams to Muddy Waters, fascinating to those interested in developments in popular music. The society of Dylan's youth is sketched in vividly: Cold War, Greenwich Village, the folk music scene, the civil rights movement, the birth of folk-rock. The controversy over Dylan's move to electric instruments in the mid 60s is shown through concert footage. We see the Dylan who found, used and then dropped Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez and many others. One comment, that Dylan was like a sponge, reminded me of a similar comment about George Gershwin, who absorbed, or 'stole' elements from all the popular cultures of his time. But transformed them. This was the Dylan who became, unexpectedly, a pop star, who poured out a stream of literate, introspective pop lyrics which made pop culture 'respectable' to the intellectuals and had a transforming effect on the way popular music was presented by other artists. In a way Dylan could be said to have re-invented pop music in this period.
So, everyone has his Dylan. In the 60s Dylan was for some The Genius; for others he was The Poet; for others again he was The Traitor. These are all projections of our own that tell us what we are looking for. No wonder Dylan dodged like crazy. Today if you become a star you deal with it by making it a persona, or you self destruct by taking it all seriously. Dylan survived because he had many personas. This film is Scorsese's Dylan. We'll never know Dylan's Dylan.
Scorsese's film covers the period 1941 to 1968, when Dylan suffered injuries in a motor cycle accident when he was about 26 years old. Therefore the film does not deal with a lot of important things about Dylan: his marriage and family; his influence on popular music, especially on the Beatles; the literary value of his song lyrics and his stature as probably the greatest of popular song writers; his use, even quite late in his career, of traditional melodies (which is common folk practice); the creation of country rock; the disintegration and self healing recorded on Blood on the Tracks; his various religious affiliations; and his non musical activities such as paintings and novels. If anyone reading this knows Martin Scorsese would they ask if a second film is going to be made covering this material? Probably the elusive Dylan would consider it too defining and completing a study to be made in his lifetime, but you can only ask.
on 28 October 2005
I waited for this documentary in the same way that Joan Baez waited to hear Bob Dylan for the first time; the hype was too good to be true, she said, and so she went to see him only to find out it was as good as portrayed. That was my hope, that it would be as good as it was hyped to be, and I was not fully satisfied.
I was more than satisfied with Part One (late 1950's-63) - very little psycho-babble on his childhood; merely shots of his face as a kid fading into the music which influenced him. The arrangement of the old footage from Woody Guthrie to Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers(they even had the legendary John Jacob Niles!) was genuinely exciting; it was Dylan without warts (the guy stole 45 invaluable records from a generous folk music collector, justifying it by claiming to be a musical expeditionary, and with a straight face); and Dave van Ronk was a genuine character, stating that Dylan was comfortable with the Left, but not really a man of the Left. Yet the Left cottoned on to him, seeing him in terms of an activism which was not fully there (compared with Baez or the courageous Pete Seeger). This told me far more about the wish-fulfilment of the US Left in the early 60s than any other programme. The Dylan performances were gems. So - Part One was excellent, with the music and the historical contexzt reinforcing each other.
But - Part Two (1963-66) did not live up to my expectations. The great performances by Dylan were there - they even had the legendary British concert where someone called out 'Judas' as he began Like a Rolling Stone, leading him to spit back 'you're a liar' and to use the song like a gun against the critics in the crowd (they had been partly organised by the British Communist Party, who were angry at Dylan's withdrawal form political folk music). The historical context was there at the start, but then suddenly stopped. It became one-sided - a chronicle of his performances, at its best a recognition that Dylan's breath-control in the 1964-66 period was an expression of beat poetry set to electronic sound (Whitman and Ginsburg used breath as a more natural means of organising the poetic line than the artifical iambic pentameter).
But the historical context was missing - what was Dylan's attitude to the Vietnam War? The angst in his music of 1964-66, looking for the desperate and desolate in an age of affluence, was to my mind a reflection of the angst troubling American society as the Great Society was being proclaimed.
Worse, the musical context was missing. What about the Beatles, whose own music was transformed by Dylan, and who helped to transform Dylan ("that's nothing; it's just something I learned in England")? Dylan didn't stop listening to music in 63; he continued to evolve, and the musical influences on that evolution are missing here. So we are left with the performances, magical as they were.
So - Part Two was not excellent. It was merely very good.
on 15 March 2009
Dylan must be a nightmare to interview. He says things which are totally disengenuous. But that is him; the real deal. Both here and in his autobiography "chronicles" he insists he wasn't a spokesman for a generation or anyone else. He says he was just a troubadour. Perhaps musical opportunist is more appropriate. Either way, there is no doubting his influence on the last 50 years of popular music.
This film clearly shows how he got there. His talent, energy and drive pushed him onto the stage and his creativity and adaptability kept him one step ahead. If he had kept strumming Pete Seeger style, he would be as forgotten now as Seeger is.
Scorsese's genius is to have Dylan answer the questions. Ok, some of the answers are self delusion; but at least they shed a light on how he would like to be seen. Finally, if none of the above is enough reason to watch this, the concert clips and the surprisingly good sound quality clinch it.
on 19 August 2010
Watching this film on my laptop, in the dark, in bed, headphones on, it took me through from the final minutes of my 57th birthday into the early hours of my next day closer to death. All being well (or not, depending on your viewpoint) Dylan, with 12 and a quarter years on me, will die before I do. I tell you this because much of the impact on me of watching No Direction Home came from the minute by minute tick-away from my long-ago youth towards mortality. This will not be an objective review.
It took me a long time to 'get' Dylan. I was aware of him in the 60s, but never sought out his music. Horse-racing was what grabbed me as a teenager and the more I listened to Dylan talk in this film, and the more I heard what he was saying being explicitly or implicitly confirmed by his 'friends' and acquaintances, the more I thought his personality to be very similar to another genius, one I knew much more about - Lester Piggott.
Piggott not only changed racing in the way Dylan changed music, but he did so with similar speed and ruthlesness. At the height of his powers, Piggott was interviewed by The Guardian; his general recitence and contempt for the press mirrored Dylan's but the key similarity, for me, was when Piggott was asked how he felt about being publicly condemned for 'stealing' other jockeys rides (Piggott would ring owners and convince them to dispense with their 'own' jockeys and let him ride certain horses), Piggott replied, 'It didn't affect me at all. I don't care what people think of me, never have.'
All LP cared about was doing what he knew he was born to do and the strongest message I got from Dylan in this film was that he felt exactly the same. Dylan never bought into the adulation - seemed bemused by it. He effectively admits he doesn't know where the songs came from, he had no great conscious awareness of writing protest songs or songs with any deliberate slant - he just wrote without questioning or analysing what came out. One of the most significant and astute quotes in the film came from a producer (whose name I can't recall), "I felt sorry for him. God didn't put his hand on Bob's shoulder so much as kick him up the ass!". Dylan just had to keep going, keep hammering those typewriter keys. Indeed, another very telling quote from the man himself - "As a performer, you can never say you've arrived. You've always got to be moving on."
It takes Scorsese a long time to get round to the Joan Baez interviews when she's reflecting, by a log fire (looking stunning for her age - the 'shriek' effect of her singing voice thankfully mellowed by the years) on the young Dylan, her ex-lover. For all her apparent feisty, mature on-camera acceptance that the romance was long dead and probably doomed from the outset anyway, you can still see the hurt. What Dylan did to her still bleeds. She mentions the pain of never being invited on stage by him in that first Eurpoean tour (when she, already established, had championed him time and again with duet invitations in his 'unknown' days). But, the real hurt was when they broke up - that was how it looked to me, at least.
By the way, Bylan's response to the wounded Baez, (by the non-invites to share the stage) . . . 'Joan shouldn't have expected me to be wise and in love at the same time.'
I didn't know much about Dylan before watching this film and I knew little more as the credits rolled. How can you hope to 'understand' someone whose only understanding of himself seems to be that he is here to write songs that he can play and sing? Or maybe his genius extends to shape-shifting (he refers to shape-shifters more than once). The only certainty I came away with was that Dylan never has and never will follow anyone's agenda but his own.
My five stars come from how watching the film, at my time of life, made me feel. Would I have given up my twelve years 'advantage' on Dylan to be in Greenwich Village when it was all happening? Only if I could have played a central part and realised some of my own 'dreams'. Those dreams have gone. Dylan didn't have the dreams, just the compulsion. He seems no happier or sadder now than he was then. He seems unchanged and untroubled. What I saw in No Direction Home was a man who never aged because he was a hundred years old the day he was born.
on 9 April 2010
This documentary is the material of legends. Directed by Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York, Shutter Island), No Direction Home explores how Dylan's musical career took off back in his folk days... and the years when his fame blasted internationally, with memorable footage of public reactions when this amazing genius picked up an electric guitar. Relevant names from the music industry add their thoughts to Dylan's past, remisiscing on folk music and Dylan's major influences, e.g Woodie Guthrie, responsible for Dylan's early songs.
Bob Dylan himself provides musings and memories of the early 60s, which is the period of his career being scrutinized in this film. The directing is beautifully crafted, packed to the seams with touching music... I especially appreciated the Dylan performance footages of my favourite Dylan songs: Mr Tambourine Man, Blowing in the Wind and Desolation Row.
Dylan's quick-talk and intellect is apparent, and can allow us to understand how this incredible man has been labelled a prophet, protruding against other singers and song writers because, of course, he changed music as we know it. No Direction Home is definitely a must-have for any Bob Dylan follower!