Fabulous. Wonderful. Fascinating. Slightly flawed. Incomplete.
All of these are perfectly appropriate descriptions of Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home. The documentary was released this week on DVD and will air on the American Masters series on PBS next week. Perhaps what is most impressive is that the interviews with Dylan himself show him at his most cogent and coherent.
The two-disc set traces Dylan’s life, roots, influences and impact from Hibbing, Minn., (“It was so cold there, you couldn’t be bad”) through his 1966 tour of England at which he was usually booed during the second, electrified half of each show for being a “traitor” to folk music. Relying extensively on archival footage and fresh interviews, the documentary truly helps reveal how and why Dylan became so significant to modern American music. And the second half also shows the burdens and afflictions of being called the poet of and spokesman for your generation at such a young age when all you really think you are — and want to be — is a musician.
In the interviews, Dylan offers perceptive insights and comments, rather than the almost incomprehensible toss offs we see so often in past interviews or press conferences. He seems to speak honestly and from the heart about his thoughts, his life and the events in it. Interviews with others range from those with him when he was just another guitar player in Minneapolis through his days as the new folk icon and protest singer to those who toured with him in 1966 and made the stunning Highway 61 Revisited.
The flaws? I was not necessarily impressed with the structure. The film starts and ends with some of the 1966-era electric performances and there are cuts to them throughout the documentary. They seem to serve as a foreshadowing of where we are heading but it can confuse the timeline for those not familiar with Dylan. Oddly, the extensive interviews do not include one with Robbie Robertson, despite his role in Dylan’s 1966 tour and “electrification.” The conclusion seems a bit disjointed and terse, with Dylan talking about wanting to return home but then using text on the screen to tell us of the motorcycle accident following the tour that played a role in keeping him off stage for eight years.
Those flaws are insignificant in the context of the whole, however. Hopefully, Scorsese will cover the next era of the Dylan saga and Dylan will be equally forthcoming in any of those interviews. If so and if Dylan continues his autobiography, we may have both fairly objective and firsthand accounts of this legend. In the meantime, if you don’t buy the DVD now, watch or record the show on PBS. I have little doubt that after seeing it you’ll want the DVD, particularly since it contains complete versions of some of the live performances seen in the documentary.
To be on the side of people who are struggling for something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being political.
Bob Dylan, No Direction Home