Dont Look Back appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the nature of the source, this seemed like a quality transfer.
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 non-factor – at least in terms of issues not from the original footage. The photographic conditions and film stock resulted in copious amounts of inevitable grain, and I saw some nagging gate hairs. Otherwise, the movie lacked extraneous specks, marks or defects.
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 a smidgen thick. I thought the visuals were satisfactory for a film of this one’s age and origins.
I don’t expect much from 50-year-old documentary audio, and the film’s LPCM monaural mix offered the limited sonics I anticipated. Actually, speech sounded better than I figured. The “on the fly” nature of the material could’ve led to a lot of rough, tough to comprehend dialogue, but instead, most of the speech seemed fairly natural and easy to understand.
Effects were a minor component, as they reflected background elements. These seemed reasonably concise. Music was passable though not especially good. Dynamics remained limited, but the songs and performances showed adequate reproduction. A product of its era, this was a competent soundtrack.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 DVD release? Audio showed improvements, mainly because the Blu-ray provided the original mono track, not the awkward surround remix. The latter didn’t work, so I’m happy to get the mono here.
Visuals showed clear improvements. The Blu-ray cleaned up the DVD’s source flaws and seemed sharper and more film-like. The Blu-ray couldn’t make the proverbial silk purse out of the source, but it’s hard to imagine the film would look better than it does here.
The 2015 Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we launch 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 Additional Audio Recordings. 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 (2:17) 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.
Next comes Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. From 2006, this one-hour, five-minute and 29-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.
While the 2007 DVD included a Pennebaker/Neuwirth commentary to accompany “65 Revisited”, that discussion doesn’t appear on the Blu-ray. I would guess this stems from rights issues, but its absence disappoints, as Pennebaker and Neuwirth offered a good chat about the 2006 documentary.
The remaining extras didn’t appear on the 2007 DVD. From 2000, Dylan on Dont Look Back offers a three-minute, 55-second audio segment with Bob Dylan. He provides some basic notes about his experiences related to the film. I’m happy we here from Bob himself, but he doesn’t deliver much insight.
With Greil Marcus and DA Pennebaker, we find a circa 2010 chat between the music journalist and the filmmaker. In this 17-minute, 49-second piece, Marcus and Pennebaker discuss Dylan, aspects of the film’s shoot and reflections on the movie. They uncover a good array of insights, especially when they discuss the Donovan sequence.
A few materials show up under DA Pennebaker: A Look Back. “It Starts With Music” brings us a new documentary that runs 29 minutes, five seconds and includes Pennebaker as well as cinematic collaborators Chris Hegedus, Jim Desmond and Nick Doob. The program examines Pennebaker’s career, with a mild emphasis on Dont Look Back. We learn a fair amount about Pennebaker’s work in this illuminating program.
Pennebaker’s first film appears as well. Daybreak Express (5:24) was shot in 1953 but not finished until 1957, and it shows a sort of music video. Express matches shots of NYC trains to a Duke Ellington song. It offers a creative and entertaining short.
A two-minute, 43-second introduction accompanies Daybreak Express. In this, Pennebaker lets us know a little about the film. He proves informative.
Another early Pennebaker film, Baby comes from 1954 and lasts five minutes, 59 seconds. This shows his then-two-year-old daughter during a day at the zoo. It’s little more than cute, though apparently the manner in which he shot it influenced Pennebaker’s subsequent approach to documentaries.
“A Look Back” finishes with 1964’s Lambert and Co., a documentary about jazz singer Dave Lambert. The 13-minute, 43-second film lets us watch as Lambert works with backup singers. Parts of it offer decent “behind the scenes” material, but honestly, much of it proves to be a snoozer. I might feel differently if I enjoyed the music, but I doubt it.
DA Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth presents another chat between the filmmaker and the tour manager. In this 33-minute, 58-second piece, they discuss Neuwirth’s relationship with Dylan, aspects of the 1965 tour, Pennebaker’s work and approach to the subject matter, and related elements. The comments about 1965 feel a little redundant, but I like the info about the 1966 tour and other topics.
With Snapshots from the Tour, we get 26 minutes and three seconds of outtakes. These appear in no particular order, as they simply provide little snapshots of Dylan’s English tour. A smattering of interesting moments occur, but most of them deserved to be left out of the film.
Next comes a 2015 interview with musician Patti Smith. In this 13-minute, 58-second chat, she talks about how she became interested in Dylan, her love of Dont Look Back and related topics, such as the first time she met Dylan in the 1970s. Smith’s comments start slowly but become pretty interesting along the way.
Finally, we get a 40-page booklet. It includes an essay from critic Robert Polito as well as photos and archival materials. The booklet proves to be better than average.
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 Blu-ray offers dated but mostly good picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. This turns into a quality rendition of an involving documentary.
To rate this film visit the DVD review of DONT LOOK BACK