A filmmaker’s actual presence in a documentary will often change the movie in a way that gives the finished product its character. Imagine “Bowling for Columbine” without Michael Moore or “Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam” without Nick Broomfield, cracking wise and annoying everyone in the process.
Add to this list Joel Gilbert, the director, producer and editor of a new DVD entitled “Bob Dylan World Tours 1966-1974.” Narrow-minded, obnoxious and delusional, Gilbert is an admitted Dylan devotee whose monstrous presence throughout the course of the DVD makes Moore and Broomfield seem as unobtrusive as Frederick Wiseman.
The first five minutes are nails-on-chalkboard painful, though perhaps all the more engaging for this reason. Gilbert explains his plans to meet Barry Feinstein, who is, in the words of Gilbert, “the greatest rock ‘n roll photographer in the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Why? Surprise, surprise: “He was the official tour photographer for Bob Dylan’s first electric tour with The Band in 1966… and Bob Dylan’s comeback tour with The Band in 1974.”
He visits Woodstock, New York, which is “famous for the big rock ‘n roll concert in 1969,” (most likely referring to the one in Bethel, NY) and hopes to “find any old hippies hanging around Woodstock who might have some interesting tales to tell me.” Gilbert then lets the viewer know that he fronts a Bob Dylan cover band Highway 61 Revisited, accompanied by some live clips of his band. “In case you were wondering, that’s me, not Bob,” he says.
Barry Feinstein, who obligingly gives Gilbert the honor of pointing the resemblance between him and Dylan, then shows off his photos of the elusive songwriter/musician. See Dylan try on a suit. See Dylan using rocks as bowling balls. See Dylan take pictures with kids who don’t even know who he is.
As Feinstein says at one point about Dylan posing for photos, “He knew when it was getting boring, so he’d do something funny,” which can often be said about Gilbert as well. Gilbert turns Dylan’s motorcycle accident into an event on the level of the Kennedy assassination, expounding crazy theories worthy of Oliver Stone, not to mention including a chillingly goofy recreation of the accident itself.
This lead singer of a cover band reprimands a Woodstock hippie for playing an “annoying” horn and spreading the “not original” message of “peace and love.” And later, Gilbert meets influential documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, who he refers to as “Don” (done with the same chutzpah he uses in referring to Dylan as “Bob”), and says, “You’re a great example for everyone that enjoys and appreciates documentaries… everything I’ve done, I always keep in mind what you’ve done.” Gilbert later attempts to talk some sense into the already loony A.J. Weberman, well known among Dylan aficionados for going through Dylan’s garbage in the early ‘70s.
It is with Weberman that Gilbert shares more of an affinity, rather than Pennebaker.