Film-Forward Review: [65 REVISITED]

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Bob Dylan in Manchester
Photo: © Ashes and Sand, Inc.

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Directed by D. A. Pennebaker.
Produced by Frazer Pennebaker.
Director of Photography, Howard Alk & Pennebaker.
Edited by Walker Lamond & Pennebaker.
Released by: Ashes & Sand Inc. & Pennebaker-Hegedus Films.
USA. 65 min. Not Rated.

Documentary director D. A. Pennebaker culled through 20 hours of outtakes from Dont Look Back (1967) in preparing a remastered “deluxe edition” DVD, released earlier this year. This new film, a glorified DVD extra, gives fans further perspective into what was an important cusp in Bob Dylan’s personal and artistic journey during his last solo acoustic tour, of England in 1965, just a couple of months before he would leave folkies behind by going electric.

The extended song selections emphasize Dylan’s Byronic impact. Pennebaker had not set out to just make a concert film, and he frequently cut away before the end of songs, excluding the audience applause. Several of the complete song performances, including “Ramona,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe,” were available in audio-only versions on a 2000 DVD edition. The sly “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” which only appeared on record in the first “Bootleg Tapes” series, is as sexy as the Clash’s similarly themed “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” that was inspired by Dylan. During performances, the camera intensely focuses on his forceful harmonica playing, as well as that iconic shaggy-haired profile in the stage lights.

The magnetic centerpiece of the original film was the interaction between Dylan and Joan Baez, so complicated that each felt it necessary to explain their romantic and professional tensions in separate interviews for Martin Scorsese‘s biographical documentary No Direction Home. These outtakes show Baez as much a siren as a symbiotic muse as Dylan is irresistibly drawn time and again to her crystalline soprano and joins her in a hotel room duet of “The Wild Mountain Thyme.” (Pennebaker has said he could have made a whole film of that night at the Savoy, and more of those outtakes would be welcome.) But we also see Dylan drop Baez from a concert tour and avoid telling her she’s not performing.

When Baez disappears from this tour, he is more approachable to fans – the British birds look straight out of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night from the year before. The star struck teenagers are still more aware than the thick journalists who ask even more inane questions than the ones he lost patience with in the original film.

Then there are portends of the future. In the original, John Mayall is only glimpsed, but here Dylan is seen entranced by a performance of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band on TV and wishes they could join him on tour to re-create the sound of his not-yet-then-released electric Bringing It All Back Home album. (No Direction Home included extensive footage of the negative audience reactions the following year.)

While inspiring much of the look and themes of Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There, Dont Look Back still stands as being eminently worthy of its listing in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. These edited outtakes add a special resonance about artists who 40 years ago knew they were leaving an important record of a significant time not just in their lives, or of their fans, but in the popular culture of film and music. Nora Lee Mandel
November 28, 2007



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