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MOVIE INFO

Director:
D.A. Pennebaker
Cast:
Bob Dylan
Writing Credits:
D.A. Pennebaker

Synopsis:
Portrait of the artist as a young man. In spring, 1965, Bob Dylan, 23, a pixyish troubador, spends three weeks in England. Pennebaker's camera follows him from airport to hall, from hotel room to public house, from conversation to concert. Joan Baez and Donovan, among others, are on hand. It's the period when Dylan is shifting from acoustic to electric, a transition that not all fans, including Baez, applaud. From the opening sequence of Dylan holding up words to the soundtrack's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Dylan is playful and enigmatic.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English (Audio Commentary Only)

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 2/27/2007

Bonus:
DVD One
• Audio Commentary with Director DA Pennebaker and Tour Manager Bob Neuwirth
• Bonus Tracks
• Trailer
• “Subterranean Homesick Blues” Alternate Take
• Profiles
DVD Two
• “Bob Dylan ’65 Revisited”
• Audio Commentary with Director DA Pennebaker and Tour Manager Bob Neuwirth
Dont Look Back Companion Book
• “Subterranean Homesick Blues” Flip Book


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back - 1965 Tour (Deluxe Edition) (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 16, 2007)

My newest entry in the “you learn something new everyday”: the nature of 1967’s documentary Dont Look Back. The flick follows Bob Dylan spring 1965 tour of England, which I always thought was the one where his choice to “go electric” inspired outrage from his folkie fans. Nope – that wouldn’t happen until the following spring. Dylan was about to begin his move toward rock with 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home but his UK shows on this tour kept him firmly unplugged.

Once I got past the disappointment that Back didn’t focus on the notorious 1966 tour, I found it to be quite interesting. An innovative piece, the film takes a “fly on the wall” viewpoint as it follows Dylan around England. We see him meet with the press, prepare backstage, hang out in hotels and generally deal with aspects of the tour. Some concert shots appear as well.

Unlike most musical documentaries, the least interesting portions of Back stem from its live performances. Part of the reason I feel that way is simply because I’m not a big fan of Dylan’s folk material. Heck, I’m not a huge Dylan partisan anyway; while I respect the heck out of his work, I’ve just never gotten into him in a major way. Nonetheless, what Dylan I enjoy comes from the electric stuff; folk just isn’t my bag.

The quality of the material also creates negatives in regard to the live performances. Since they neither look nor sound very good, they’re not terribly fun to watch. Again, it I dug the music more, I’d be better able to tolerate those flaws; I’d have few problems with Beatles sets reproduced the same way. Since I don’t maintain much affection for the music, though, the performances fail to interest me.

The rest of the footage proves more compelling. While Back doesn’t provide a concise look at the Dylan tour in general, it offers an intriguing psychological portrait of the man. Well, it does so to a certain degree. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that much of Dylan’s public personality and the way he presented himself at the time were a put-on, so this means it can be tough to tell what was real and what was self-fabrication.

In that way, Dylan creates an interesting contrast when compared to other Sixties rock notables. John Lennon was almost pathologically honest and incapable of phoniness, whereas Paul McCartney adopted the “genial showman” at an early stage and thereafter rarely revealed any potential fissures. Mick Jagger demonstrated cool aloofness tinged with irony and sarcasm.

Dylan went for a more aggressive form of arrogance. This comes out many ways in the film, as Dylan often seems arrogant and obtuse. All at once, he appears both bemused and annoyed by his notoriety, and he behaves in an awfully condescending and smug way toward many of those they meet.

How true were these feelings? I’m sure there’s some validity to them, but it’s also obvious that Dylan play-acted much of his hostility. This becomes most apparent during a fairly absurd chat with a representative from Time magazine. After Dylan thoroughly diminishes the publication’s quality and significance, he makes grandiose claims of his own talents and claims to be a better singer than opera legend Caruso.

Perhaps more revealing still is the movie’s through-line in which Dylan confronts the growing popularity of then-new folk sensation Donovan. Dylan mocks the singer through a variety of clips, but his jealousy becomes clear. Dylan wouldn’t admit he saw Donovan as a threat to his folk hegemony, but his attitude makes his feelings apparent.

When the two meet, Dylan’s actions prove this point. Donovan plays one of his tunes, a pleasant enough ditty that Dylan graciously applauds. However, he immediately takes the guitar to do one of his own songs, a gesture clearly intended to remind Donovan – and all those around them – who the true talent is. It’s a fascinating moment and a fine way to culminate the whole Donovan thread that weaves through Back.

The film comes with many other interesting snippets, and manager Albert Grossman makes the most of his time on camera. I particularly like a scene in which he and a tour promoter play two British TV networks against each other to reap as much money as possible. It’s not exactly a revelatory scene; the desire of folks like this to screw everyone possible for a buck isn’t news. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining to see.

Arguably the film’s most bizarre sequence comes when Dylan has an absurd meeting with the “High Sheriff’s Lady” in one English borough. This hoity-toity dame professes to be a fan of his work, and she brings along her sons “David, Stephen and Stephen”. Aren’t they characters in the British version of Newhart? It gets even more ridiculous when she invites them to stay at her estate next time they come to town.

What do we learn from Dont Look Back? That’s hard to say. Bob Dylan works so hard to keep us from seeing the real Zimmy that it can be difficult to discern the psychological truth of the matter. However, those actions in and of themselves shed some light on his character and probably make the exploration more interesting than if he’d been more transparent. This makes Back a consistently involving and entertaining piece.


The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C-/ Bonus B+

Dont Look Back appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. With a movie like this, it becomes tough to separate problems from the transfer and issues inherent to the source material. Even when I tried to minimize the latter, this still seemed like a lackluster presentation.

Sharpness was generally good and usually affected mainly by the movie’s “on the fly” photography. This meant focus occasionally suffered, but that wasn’t a considerable problem, as the movie usually stayed reasonably concise. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement presented no apparent concerns.

Source flaws were a different issue. The photographic conditions and film stock resulted in copious amounts of inevitable grain, but other defects were more avoidable. I noticed a mix of specks, marks, lines, blemishes and other distractions. Again, I could accept the grain and some of the problems, but many of them seemed more avoidable.

Blacks looked pretty good. Though some shots came across as a bit inky, most of the blacks were quite deep and dense. Shadows varied, another factor that depended on the photographic conditions. Some low-light shots were fine, but others seemed awfully thick and impenetrable. In the end, this left us with an image that was fine given its sources but not better than that.

While the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Dont Look Back suffered from some of the same concerns related to its origins, the decision to expand its soundfield created unnecessary problems. The mix took the original monaural audio and spread it across the front in an unsatisfying manner. This didn’t come across as true stereo; instead, it just broadened the audio in a blandly diffuse manner. This wasn’t a terrible distraction, but it meant that the audio lost some punch due to its lack of focus.

Surround usage was minor. The back speakers added a little light ambience along with crowd noise during the concert segments. These added little to the proceedings.

Audio suffered from the “broad mono” presentation. Granted, I didn’t expect flawless quality given the nature of the recordings, but the way the mix muddled the material meant it lacked the expected clarity. Speech suffered the most, as the dialogue became a bit mushy. I kept subtitles on throughout the movie just because it could be tough to understand what was said. Again, some of this came from the source material, but I felt the altered soundfield diminished the impact of the audio.

Music also sounded somewhat flat as well, as the spread-out audio meant the songs failed to deliver much concision. Neither sounded poor, but they could have provided clearer definition without this somewhat distracting remix. Effects were a minor consideration, as they stayed in the background. Ultimately, the audio was a disappointment even given my low expectations for it.

Where this package excels relates to its supplements. On DVD One, we start with an audio commentary from director DA Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. We start with a few notes about the genesis and creation of the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sequence and then dig into documentary-related issues. The commentary looks at how the program came to be and problems with its distribution, behind the scenes elements of what we see on screen, technical aspects of the shoot, background of various participants, and other thoughts about the era and Dylan.

All of this creates a decent track but not an especially consuming one. Pennebaker and Neuwirth cover the basics reasonably well, and we get an okay feel for things. I just wish we got more insight into the various situations and the era. It seems like there should be a lot for us to learn about what happened during the tour but we don’t find out all that much. This ends up as an average commentary.

Next we find five bonus tracks. These audio recordings provide live versions of “To Ramona”, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. These sound surprisingly good and provide a nice glimpse of Dylan on stage at the time.

The film’s trailer essentially just consists of the movie’s opening scene: the proto-music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Speaking of which, we also get an alternate take of that piece. It’s similar to the better-known version except it uses a different location and Dylan has a lot more trouble with the lyric cards. It’s awkward but fun to see.

Profiles offers some text information. We get entries for Pennebaker, Dylan, and “Cast & Crew”. The Pennebaker text gives us a basic biography and filmography, while the Dylan listing mostly concentrates on his discography. “Cast & Crew” includes short notes about Joan Baez, Albert Grossman, Neuwirth, Allan Ginsberg, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, Alan Price, Derroll Adams, Tito Burns, Terry Ellis, Howard and Jones Alk, and Bob Van Dyke. Those notations are the best part of “Profiles” since they let us know who so many of the flick’s unnamed participants are.

Moving to DVD Two, the main attraction comes from Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. This 65-minute and 25-second program collates outtakes from the original film sessions into a new documentary. We find lots more performance footage as well as more shots of Dylan in public and private.

Frankly, these clips aren’t tremendously interesting. Fans will dig the concert shots, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not wild about Dylan’s folk stuff, so they do little for me. The other bits are intriguing mainly because they show a less barbed side of Dylan. He comes across as something of a jerk in Back, but here we see him in a nicer light. While I can’t say the material excited me, it’s still nice to check out additional clips from the 1965 tour.

Note that “Revisited” offers another alternate version of “Subterranean”. This one finds Dylan atop a roof on a somewhat windy day. This makes it tough for him to handle the lyric cards and leaves him with an irritated expression. I think annoyed-looking Dylan might be more fun.

The documentary also comes with another audio commentary from Pennebaker and Neuwirth. Again, they sit together and give us running, screen-specific notes. The material resembles what we hear in the track for the full film, as the pair go into background about the British tour as well as the nature of Dylan and his work, and we also get a lot about the technical issues dealt with during the shoot. In addition, Pennebaker provides a little insight into the assembly of this documentary.

Despite some dead air and occasional repetition of information from the first track, this turns into a somewhat more satisfying discussion. The quality of the material seems richer and we get a better feel for the era. It’s a reasonably informative and engaging chat.

This “65 Tour Deluxe Edition” of Dont Look Back also includes some paper elements. The big component reproduces a companion book composed by Pennebaker. It presents stills from the movie, Dylan lyrics, and text excerpts from the flick. Though nothing stunning appears, this acts as a cool complement to the film and creates a fun component for the set.

We also get an unusual flip book for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. This tiny tome puts the visuals from the “Blues” video and lets you flip through them to create the illusion of movement; it’s like the simple animation kids make when they’re bored. I’m not sure what purpose this serves, but it’s kind of neat in a silly way.

Dont Look Back maintains a reputation as one of the all-time great rock documentaries, a factor it probably deserves if just for its innovations. Above and beyond those elements, though, it manages to provide a fairly fascinating look at a legendary artist as a young man. The DVD presents mediocre picture and audio but compensates with a mix of useful extras.

While Dont Look Back definitely merits your attention, I feel less sure that this special “65 Tour Deluxe Edition” deserves the extra expense involved. It retails for $49.95, while a single-disc version with all the components on this one’s DVD One goes for $30 less. I like this package’s second disc and its paper components but find it hard to justify the added cost. Leave the “Deluxe Edition” for the superfans and get the standard release instead.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3846 Stars Number of Votes: 13
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main