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Published: 2007/03/21
by Brian Ferdman

Bob Dylan- Dont Look Back - 65 Tour Deluxe Edition

Docurama NVG-9824

Why is D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back a must-see for any fan of music, film, or pop culture? Well, for starters, the 1965 documentary of Bob Dylan’s tour through England was the first time an audience got a glimpse of the inner workings of an extremely guarded and private artist. Then there was D.A. Pennebaker’s revolutionary cinema verittyle, featuring a hand-held camera (that the director had invented) and an unobtrusive but raw and natural way of filming the events that transpired. Of course, there was also the history of the moment, as the 23-year old Dylan was exploding into the mainstream, facing hordes of adoring fans and a critical press. And yes, all of this occurred on his very last acoustic tour, as he would plug in and electrify his live sound only two months later, shocking the world and sending pop music in a new and unprecedented direction.

But there’s oh so much more to be found in this stunningly informative film, which has been re-packaged and bundled with lots of other goodies in the newly released Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – 65 Tour Edition.

The fates truly aligned for Pennebaker, as the man had an uncanny knack for capturing incredibly choice moments of action. For instance, how on Earth did Pennebaker wind up in front of a phone booth, filming a Manchester Guardian reporter as he called in his review of the show? Then there’s the shot of a few young teenage groupies on a Liverpool street experiencing the thrill of having Dylan wave back at them from a hotel room window. How about the luck of being backstage when Dylan’s microphone kicks out, documenting the local crew scrambling to rectify the situation? There’s also the insanity of the kids who crowd Dylan’s post-show getaway car, including one girl who would not let go of the bumper of the speeding vehicle, prompting Dylan to shout, “Take that girl off our car, please!”

Of course, it isn’t all a bunch of happy accidents for Pennebaker. His shots of backstage life are riveting, as Dylan attempts to write at a typewriter while his ex-girlfriend, Joan Baez, serenades a silent room of relaxing musicians. Later, the two wind up dueting on Hank Williams numbers, much to the delight of their peers. One of those peers was Alan Price, who opted to take a vacation from playing keyboards with the Animals in favor of traveling with Dylan. The Animals were none to keen about this decision, so they kicked Price out of the band. When Dylan asks Price who will play keys for the Animals, a moment of cinematic brilliance occurs. Price avoids the question but looks obviously dejected. Then Dylan begins playing a bluesy riff, and Price immediately turns around and pours his heart out on some impassioned piano. You can’t really script moments like these, but Pennebaker was certainly in the right place at the right time.

Pennebaker has said Don’t Look Back “may not be so much about Dylan because Dylan is sort of acting throughout the film.” Indeed, the troubadour is clearly putting on a show for much of the time, although he rarely acknowledges the camera. When confronted by the press, Dylan is playfully combative, toying with his pray like a cat battering around a gimpy mouse. He has little respect for the people who are attempting to decipher the cause of his fame, let alone create a “message” that will conveniently sum up his entire persona. In a famous scene, Dylan turns the tables on an inquisitive “science student” who requests a pre-show interview. Dylan would later attribute his ornery response to pre-show jitters, as he winds up grilling the poor student on all sorts of metaphysical questions. (It didn’t turn out so bad for this “science student,” who would eventually go on to become president of Chrysalis Records.) Later in the film, Dylan goes at it with a reporter from Time Magazine, although Dylan’s barbs are never personal. He’s attacking an institution, not the man who serves it, and he makes this clear throughout his diatribe.

This film is chock full of fascinating little moments, many of them shot from incredibly clever, improvised camera angles. Cameos by luminaries, such as Donovan, Maryanne Faithful, John Mayall, and Derroll Adams, only add to the historical significance of the documentary.

While Pennebaker’s 90 minutes of Don’t Look Back are outstanding, he had so much leftover footage that he was able to craft an entirely new documentary, Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. Although the new doc isn’t quite as captivating as the original, there are some unique scenes, including a fun sequence where Dylan and his entourage worry about planning an escape route because mayhem might ensue once people realize that Dylan and The Beatles are both in the same building. Rounding out the Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – 65 Tour Deluxe Edition are complete, re-mastered audio live tracks of five of Dylan’s songs, a 168-page companion book that features a full “screenplay,” and a small flip-book that displays the iconic video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is featured at the beginning of the film.

The Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – 65 Tour Deluxe Edition showcases a thorough look at the intersection of two artists who were each changing the way their own medium was utilized. Dylan was bringing thought-provoking lyrics and a folk sensibility to pop music, while Pennebaker was bringing a newly found grit and an uncompromising look at documentary subject matter to the screen. Both were revolutionaries who were on top of their game in 1965, and viewing this excellent new DVD set is the perfect way to observe two geniuses at work.

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