In 1965, folk superstar Bob Dylan made a three week tour of Great Britain. This jaunt was captured on celluloid by documentarian D. A. Pennebaker and the resultant groundbreaking film was called “Don’t Look Back”.
Initially, the most striking thing about the film is the contrast between the Dylan of 1965 and his current incarnation. Rather than having a mumbling, distant demeanor, Dylan is sharp, articulate and very much on top of his game.
Dylan’s transcendence of the folk scene is evident when a public appearance causes a riot worthy of the Beatles. And young girls stand outside his hotel looking up at him with rapt adoration.
The late Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager at the time, is a formidable figure, as well. His confrontation with a British hotel manager is priceless and one of the funniest moments in the film.
Joan Bæz is annoying with her incessant singing in hotel rooms, taxis, etc. It’s bad enough that she did that crap onstage, but her “beautiful” singing–at every opportunity–is pure torture. Even when Dylan starts singing she can’t keep her big mouth shut. Her voice is about as listenable as a fire alarm.
At one point, Dylan lays a pure attitude trip on a geeky British student (Terry Ellis, who, amazingly enough, went on to run Chrysalis Records) who’s way out of his depth in the pointless debate–even though Dylan comes off like he’s only half trying. It’s fun to watch old Bob work out on punks who obviously aren’t used to being challenged about the inane questions they ask.
For all of Dylan’s brazen flippancy, he comes across as charming, thoughtful and ultimately sincere. His craftsmanship as a songwriter is also readily apparent. Possessed of a reedy, nasal voice, Dylan’s songwriting still manages to impress. He runs through “The Times They Are A Changin'”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and others.
And the filmmaking was revolutionary for 1965, too. Pennebaker was an engineer who’d come up with a prototype portable film camera. He put it to great use on “Don’t Look Back.” Shot in grainy black-and-white, the film jumps off every frame with a freshness that is rather amazing more than thirty-five years after it was made.
The DVD has some great extras like commentary by D.A. Pennebaker and Dylan’s road manager and scenester Bob Neuwirth. As well as five tunes in their entirety in audio format, as well as an alternate version of of the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” “cue card” scene.
“Don’t Look Back” is a truly fascinating snapshot of Dylan shortly before he “went electric” and became a much more conventional rockstar.Great stuff for Dylan fans or anyone interested in a street level look at a pop culture icon.