Ok, there are a lot of people who are not fans of Bob Dylan. While I don’t dislike Dylan, I never owned any of his music save for his greatest hits album. I was never into the folk music scene. What I heard from Bob and enjoyed were songs that were accessible to me; songs like Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Hurricane, and numerous others. I have friends who are diehard fans, but I don’t consider myself to be one. So it was with some trepidation (and a few other things) that I watched the “documentary” Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story on Netflix. Ho. Lee. Shit. I’m glad I did, and I highly encourage you to do the same (see what I did there?).
I’m not going into full detail as I would in a regular Movie Guide, but I’ll say this - the film is as much a work of fiction as it is a documentary. There seems to be an equal balance here. In the film, things are not always as they seem. The interviews are mostly fiction. For example, there are definite inaccuracies throughout, but that’s in keeping with Dylan’s past. He has bent reality before, and he does so again here. I don’t think it’s malicious, I just think it meets his needs at whatever particular moment he utters falsehoods. One example is that his Kabuki-like makeup was not inspired by the band KISS. I mean, come on, Bob Dylan wouldn’t be inspired by any aspect of KISS. Ever. However, the fictionalized stories are only a small fraction of what makes this film awesome. The live performances are absolutely amazing.
The footage was shot during 1975-76 when Dylan put together a traveling troupe of musicians, including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Allen Ginsberg, and many more. The venues were small and intimate, ranging from 1000 person halls to a senior-citizens Scrabble parlor. To be blunt, the music is incredible. If you’ve ever been in a band and played in front of people, you will immediately understand why this film is outstanding. It captures the loose groove of jamming musicians who literally have nothing to lose and are just doing it for the fun. I struggle to find the words to describe the jams except to say that you should watch.
A few examples:
Directed (as it were) by Martin Scorcese, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story is currently on Netflix. I highly recommend it, whether you’re a Dylan fan or not. If you’ve ever jammed on stage, you’ll immediately understand why this resonates.