Rolling Thunder Revue A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese - This Movie Rocks
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Starring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Roger McGuinn, Joni MItchell, Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, T-Bone Burnett, Sharon Stone
As Bob Dylan live has become more of a challenging experience over the years, -some nights on brilliant form, other nights when he plays long-held favourites in an almost unrecognisable manner, other nights still (most recently) where he enjoys himself playing Frank Sinatra covers – then this movie is a reminder of just how amazing the man can be.
After years away from the live circuit (following that famed motorcycle accident of ’66), Dylan returned to live performing in 1974, embarking on a mammoth arena-busting tour with The Band (witness that year’s album Before The Flood.) But restless soul that he was, Dylan was not happy with this soulless way of performing, so, at the tail end of 1975, he got a bunch of friends and acquaintances together, some singers (Baez, Mitchell, Elliot, McGuinn), some poets (Ginsberg, Shepard), many more musicians (Bowie sideman Mick Ronson included), and set off on a barnstorm around the smaller venues of America, often showing up with little or no forewarning, selling out their shows by handing out flyers and little else.
It was a tour, following on the heels of the epic Blood On The Tracks, that saw Dylan dramatically re-enthused for his work.
He was also working and (unusually) co-writing with theatre producer Jaques Levy (see the resultant Isis – some of which is debuted here) and writing and shooting a movie with Sam Shepard along the way. Anyone who has ever sat through the resultant and relatively incoherent 4-hour Renaldo & Clara that emerged three years later, knows the movie side of this was a huge mistake.
But it did result in a vast amount of footage of life in and around the Revue that Scorsese makes superb use of in attempting to catch that experience in all its power. There are numerous fantastic live performances captured here (a pounding Simple Twist Of Fate and an impassioned Hurricane to name but two), Dylan wearing white face at Levy’s suggestion of making his performances more theatrical in scope – the venues got smaller as Dylan got bigger. And there is plenty of delightful behind the scenes off-stage material as the group is caught during the tour’s downtime. More than anything, Scorsese’s film captures the excitement of it all, of a group of artists of varying degrees of reputation, pulling together the create something that is as unique as it is fleeting.
There are a few times when Scorsese seems to take the narrative feel of Renaldo & Clara a touch too much to heart, and the film initially lacks some context of its own, with no real explanation of how or why Rolling Thunder came to be. It just is there.
But what is there is generally wonderful, whether it be Dylan’s contemporary interview looking back (his first on camera interview for years), his duets with Baez (“Joan Baez and me could sing together in our sleep”), Joni Mitchell showing up and almost stealing the show with an early version of Coyote (allegedly written about fellow traveller Sam Shepard), and Dylan duetting with McGuinn on Knocking On Heaven’s Door, and throwing him the stink eye throughout his exquisite 12-string solo. As with so much of the movie, it’s hysterical and brilliant both.
The Rolling Thunder Review hits Netflix and limited theatrical release from June 12
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