Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Keep a good head, and always carry a light bulb" DON'T LOOK BACK REVIEW DOCUMENTARY MARATHON


Don't Look Back-1967-D.A. Pennebaker

*Excuse me while I make a claim beforehand. I love Bob Dylan, and watching this documentary, to me, was such a great experience seeing him just interacting with people. Pardon my affection for the man throughout this review of Pennebaker's wonderful documentary. It is worthy of more discussion then I'm sure I will give it. Also, it has been a few months since I saw this film, so forgive me if my facts are just a little off. Please? Okay, fine, don't, but just read the review. Or not. God. Do whatever you want. I don't care.


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Cinema Verite filmmaking is a fascinating way to capture a figure such as Bob Dylan. Dylan is definitely one of the most enigmatic artists of our time, and D.A. Pennebaker's portrait of him in Don't Look Back, is so very intriguing for that reason. We know so little about the man. The events of Pennebaker's documentary follow Dylan and Joan Baez on a tour of England in 1965. This is such a transitional period for Dylan, as he is in the middle of switching from acoustic folk songs to a more electric rock and roll style. Which is what makes the documenting of the time so fascinating.

Is this the real Bob Dylan? Certainly not, we get a few different Dylan's throughout the documentaries duration. We get the confident Dylan who pleasantly listens to up and comer Donovan's sweet little pop song, and tells him how much he enjoys it before he destroys it with his own song, proving that Dylan is a transcendental figure. No matter how good a song may be, it will never be a Dylan song.

Sometimes, I wonder, how self aware Dylan truly is. When we see his interactions with reporters and his lashing out at a reporter who called him a folk musician. He much preferred the term artist, or was this an act? Maybe I am slightly misguided about Dylan, but I feel as if he's always playing with people. Never giving anyone his true self. This explains him and Baez's slight arguments about social issues we see in the film and Dylan's lack of interest in them. Which also leads to Dylan's ultimate leap from folk to rock and roll music. A decision which cost him a lot at the time, but to Dylan it was about his art, not about some movement, or some cause.


A perfect representation of this would be when Dylan is performing for a massive crowd and his mic isn't working. He continues to play, and we hear his guitar, but no one can he what he is singing. This doesn't stop Dylan. In Dylan's art, he was always misinterpreted. In fact, I don't really know at all what Dylan meant with most of his songs. I simply cling to what they mean to me, but I'm sure they are totally different to any number of people. The audience wasn't hearing what Dylan was really saying with his poetic lyrics that they all sang along to. Perhaps no one really does.

A scene that really stands out is Dylan's argument over the broken glass. He is so angry about some broken glass, wondering who threw it, that we actually see Dylan showing some passion that seems genuine. What does this mean for Dylan? Is he really that angry that someone might have gotten hurt, or is this representative of his entire art form? He is moving on, he is shattering the glass of his folk music icon image, and trying to move forward. Was Donovan going to beat him to the punch? Dylan was clearly, although he attempted to hide it, jealous of Donovan in a sense. He was sort of the British version of Bob Dylan, and Dylan simply wanted to stand alone.

Ultimately, the opening sequence tells all. With Subterranean Homesick Alien playing, Dylan holds poster boards with the lyrics written on them. Sometimes misspelled and sometimes totally different words than the ones sang. It's a very humorous, yet, meaningful scene. It is Dylan's moving forward from his old style. He is simply tossing those words onto the ground, as if they never meant anything to him in the first place.


In the film's final sequence we see Dylan in the back of his limo, with Albert Grossman reading aloud an article about Dylan in which he is regarded as an anarchist for showing people societal problems but never offering any sort of solution. To which Dylan replies, "It can't be good to be an anarchist..."

Could this be Dylan's telling moment of moving forward with his art and not looking back as the title suggests?

2 comments:

Miss Sarah said...

Hey! I just found your blog... very nice! I have a pop culture/movie blog too.

I'm a film student and taking a modern/contemporary documentary class right now. it's pretty interesting. Great post by the way :-)

jquaglia said...

Subterranean Homesick Blues! Not Alien, that's the Radiohead song, lol.

Great post though...great observations and theory.

Cheers