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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011) DVD Review

The new Bob Dylan documentary, titled Bob Dylan Revealed, begins with Dylan saying, "There are many sides to the coin, you know, and ... the longer you go on, the more sides you show that are there to be unraveled." And this documentary aims to show the different sides of this complex and famous songwriter, the way the man has changed throughout the years, from the early 1960s to the present. Though most of the documentary focuses on the 1970s, particularly 1974 through 1979. The fim is broken into several sections, each section focusing on a particular phase in Bob Dylan's life and career.

The first section is titled, "1962: Times Are A-Changing." In this section, there are interviews with Barry Feinstein, a photographer who caught an early show and said it was "hard to make out the words, but there seemed to be something magical there." There are also interviews with record producers Jerry Wexler and Al Kasha, who discuss how Bob Dylan's first record didn't sell well, and Columbia considered dropping him from the label. The reason they kept him was because of his songwriting talent, the plan being to let other artists on the label cover his songs. Not much else is discussed in this section, and the documentary quickly moves onto the next segment.

Dylan Goes Electric With The Band

The second section is "1966: Electric World Tour." Everyone knows the hullabaloo caused by Bob Dylan going electric. The folk world felt betrayed. What's great about this section is that Mickey Jones, Bob Dylan's drummer for this tour, is interviewed, and relates many personal anecdotes from the tour. He also provides footage that he shot, mostly from the road as they arrived at various locations. Mickey says that all the shows on the tour were recorded, and it wasn't until they were listening to the tapes later that the band realized they'd been booed.

This section relies heavily on the Mickey Jones material, and so in a way it's more about him and his personal memories than about Bob Dylan. There are some good anecdotes, like the one about how The Band got its name. Originally called The Hawks, Mickey says they became The Band because the newspapers when reviewing concerts on that tour would talk about how great the acoustic sets were, but how they hated when Dylan came on stage with the band. "We never got referred to as The Hawks in the media," Mickey says. And so they adopted that moniker officially, and became The Band.

He also talks about how Bob Dylan enjoyed playing around during interviews, and there is footage of an old interview in which someone asks if it's true that Dylan had changed his name and if so what his real name was. Dylan's answer is, "My name is Ponizovich." One problem with this film is that the older interview footage isn't identified. The original source of this interview is not cited, nor is the date.

It's interesting that there is nothing about the Newport Festival from July of 1965, when he played an electric set. On the one hand, how do you make a documentary film about Bob Dylan and leave out one of the most important moments in his career? On the other hand, that Newport electric set has been documented and discussed so many times in so many venues that maybe it doesn't need to be disected once again here. How does one choose which moments to delve into in a career that is so long and interesting as Bob Dylan's?

The third section, titled "1967: Drug Rehab," is very short. Mickey Jones talks about how there was a concert planned for Shea Stadium and also a series of shows in Russia, but that Bob Dylan called him one day to tell him he was in the hospital after a motorcycle accident, and that all the shows were canceled. Barry Feinstein says he didn't believe there was a motorcycle accident, that maybe he simply fell off his bike. He says that he later saw the bike, and it wasn't banged up. Oddly, this section says nothing whatsoever about drug rehab or drugs. So why the title?

The Comeback and Desire

The documentary then moves suddenly forward to "1974: The Comeback." Barry Feinstein talks about photographing the 1974 tour. Interestingly, he says it was the first time he ever saw folks at a concert holding up lit matches and lighters. He took several photos of that phenomenon, one of which ended up being used as the cover for the album Bob Dylan/The Band: Before The Flood. This section includes a lot of great stills, including shots of promoter Bill Graham and then-governor Jimmy Carter.

The next section is one of the longest of the film. Titled, "1975: Rolling Thunder Revue," it details not only that tour, but also the song "The Hurricane" from his 1975 album Desire, and the film Renaldo And Clara (1978). This section benefits from interviews with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, as well as bassist Rob Stoner and violinist Scarlet Rivera. Scarlet's anecdote about meeting Bob Dylan is wonderful, how she met him on the street while holding her violin. And the segment on the recording of Desire is interesting, including that there were no overdubs.

Dylan Goes Gospel

From there it goes into a brief section about the larger band assembled for the 1978 tour before going into "1979: Busy Being Born...Again!" The title of course comes from the line "He who's not busy being born is busy dying" from the song "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." This section is about one of the most controversial periods from Dylan's career, that being when he turned to Christianity, not just in his life, but in his music and in his live performances. He thus turned off a large segment of his fan base. There is some great audio from one of his concerts in which he start preaching and the fans react. It's a shame there is no footage of that moment included. But there is footage of audience members walking out of a show at the Warfield in San Francisco.

This phase not only dismayed fans, but critics as well. Interviewed in this section is Joel Selvin, who wrote a review of Dylan's gospel show. After that review, titled "Bob Dylan's God-Awful Gospel," was published, Dylan called him on the phone and said Joel had lost his license to review him.

The film's final section, titled "1992: Never Ending Tour," centers on an interview with drummer Winston Watson about playing in Bob Dylan's band and his personal anecdotes.

Again, it's tough to choose what to mention in a movie that's limited to two hours. But this one completely overlooks such landmark albums as Blonde On Blonde and Blood On The Tracks. The only two albums it puts any real focus on are Desire and Slow Train Coming. There is also nothing about his desire to emulate Woody Guthrie in the early days, nor anything about his more recent return to his folk roots in albums like Good As I Been To You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993). Also, there are no new interviews with the man himself, Bob Dylan. The only interview footage is older stuff, some of which is available elsewhere.

Also, there is little in the way of actual Bob Dylan music included in this documentary. Interviewees spend quite a bit of time talking about "Gotta Serve Somebody," for example, and yet no snippet from that song is heard, which might have benefited those unfamiliar with that particular song. The instrumental music heard throughout the documentary is provided by Highway 61 Revisited, a Bob Dylan tribute band, not by Bob Dylan himself. Joel Gilbert, the film's director, is the lead singer and guitarist in Highway 61 Revisited. Interestingly, Scarlet Rivera and Rob Stoner have both played with Highway 61 Revisited, so Joel didn't have to go far to find people to interview for this film.

And ultimately one is left wondering what about Bob Dylan was truly revealed by this documentary. For the casual fan, there will be quite a bit of new information, but little music with which to anchor him or her. For the serious fan, there really isn't much in the way of new information. But the anecdotes are enjoyable, and you get some different perspectives on certain moments of Dylan's career.

Another film that delves into the various sides of Bob Dylan, but takes a completely different approach, is Todd Haynes' I'm Not There (2007), in which six different actors portray Dylan at various phases in his career. I'm Not There is not a documentary, but it probably reveals more about who Bob Dylan is than Bob Dylan Revealed.

Bob Dylan Revealed is scheduled to be released on May 1, 2011 through Highway 61 Entertainment and MVD Visual.

Joel Gilbert has also directed three other Bob Dylan documentaries: World Tour 1966: The Home Movies (2003), Bob Dylan 1975 - 1981: Rolling Thunder And The Gospel Years (2006), and Bob Dylan Never Ending Tour Diaries: Drummer Winston Watson's Incredible Journey (2009).

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