[20 March 2007]
“You’re going to miss 90 percent of it,” says the film’s director D.A. Pennebaker on the making of Dont Look Back. “But ten percent seemed to me not bad of something that nobody had even gotten one percent of before.”
And so went the production of this double landmark film, the first being an intimate portrayal of the ever mysterious Dylan being, well, ever mysterious, and the second being Pennebaker’s pioneering of cinema verite (the ‘fly on the wall’ style ) in American film, documentary or otherwise. The enigmatic beauty of both the content and form of Dont Look Back has been recounted and analyzed in dozens of other writings, so I wish to instead focus this review on the “Deluxe Edition” aspect of the DVD (re)release.
To begin with, this reissue is slick: a stylish box set design, the previously out-of-print 168-page companion book (basically the film’s “script”), a novelty (read: mostly ridiculous) flip book of the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cue-card scene, and an extra DVD of bonus material. Basically, it’s the yawn of repackaging, the new-but-far-from-insightful bombardment of artifacts and documents.
But extraneous this ain’t. Yes, the companion book, the flip book, the new digital transfer are all nice and to be expected. But the second disc, entitled Bob Dylan 65 Revisited, is as much a masterpiece of filmmaking and Dylan portrait/performance as Dont Look Back itself. In fact, it might even be better.
Bob Dylan 65 Revisited is billed as “outtakes from Dont Look Back”, but this is a 60-minute film in its own right. There is seemingly no overlap in footage, an entirely new set of songs from the tour, precise and careful editing, and shades of performance, on and off the stage that deepens our understanding of Dylan the performer beyond even that of the original film.
For starters, 65 Revisited opens with almost the entire performance of “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright” from London. The audio of the song runs behind the opening credit sequence, and then we settle in with Dylan on stage. The extreme close ups of Dylan as he plays the song’s harmonica solo are emotionally intense; we are close enough to kiss him. We see his lips behind the harp, the rising and falling of his breaths, the blowing patterns, as his dark eyes dart back and forth. This might be the most moving musical performance ever captured on film.
While the other musical performances do not have the same degree of intimacy, there are still tender renderings (by Dylan and Pennebaker) throughout 65 Revisited. Complete or near-complete performances of “To Ramona”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “It’ Ain’t Me, Babe”, “Its Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and “She Belongs to Me” make this a vital set for Dylan fans.
The scenes range from the comic (Dylan in a clothing store trying on ties) to the archival- historical (an alternate rooftop take of the famous cue card sequence) to the awe-inspiring (Dylan at a piano demo-ing “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and “Phantom Engineer” for his producer Tom Wilson). In addition, Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth provide an insightful audio commentary (Dylan’s views of stereo and mono; Beckett’s fandom of Dylan).
I could go on about specific scenes and performances, but I wouldn’t want to ruin your joy of discovering this treasure trove from Pennebaker’s literal and Dylan’s metaphorical attic.