COURTESY OF DOCURAMA
D.A. Pennebacker, right, was like a fly on the wall during Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England.
Private moments with Dylan
It's a statement that had more than its fair share of truth at this crucial time in the life of the 24-year-old singer-songwriter. While Dylan made his reputation as the pre-eminent star on the American folk scene, he was already writing songs apart from the topical subjects he was known for, in favor of more freewheeling, and creatively liberating, tunes filled with riveting wordplay.
"I'm not a folk singer."
-- Bob Dylan, speaking to a Time magazine reporter while on tour in England in 1965
The seminal documentary by D.A. Pennebacker, "Don't Look Back" shows Dylan honoring a solo acoustic tour commitment, playing in select cities of Great Britain in mid-'65. Unbeknownst to his adoring fans, he had already cut his first electric rock album back in New York, and advance cuts from "Bringing It All Back Home," such as "Maggie's Farm" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues," were just reaching the ears of a public and press still coming to terms with his provocative folk material.
The recently released deluxe home video edition of "Don't Look Back" not only includes the famous cue-card prologue to "Subterranean Home- sick Blues," but also two rarely seen alternate takes, again shot on top of and near his tour home base of the Savoy Hotel in London.
The deluxe edition includes a small, frame-by-frame flip book of "Subterranean ...," a reproduction of the original 1968 companion book to the documentary and, more important, a second DVD made up exclusively of outtakes and complete concert performances.
Three of the performances -- "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," the brilliant "I'm Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "She Belongs to Me" -- show how much musical power Dylan had at his command. It's just his wit, idiosyncratic voice, guitar and harmonica played out before rapt audiences.
Revisiting this riveting documentary, Pennebacker's skills as an unobtrusive filmmaker (helped by his own self-designed and portable camera-and-sound recorder rig) were crucial in capturing Dylan and his touring party during their most candid and unguarded moments. The result is cinema vérité at its finest.
"Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back
65 Tour Deluxe Edition"
For the most part, Dylan was the cordial if bemused center of attention, surrounded by fans and the British press. He was with people he trusted, particularly manager Albert Grossman, friend and road manager Bob Neuwirth and fellow singer Joan Baez, who had just toured with Dylan in New York.
Unforgettable sequences include a lovely scene during a rare quiet evening in Dylan's hotel room, with Baez singing "Percy's Song" and Dylan doing a couple of beloved Hank Williams songs.
Two exchanges with the press show Dylan at his most combative, one with a befuddled university student who turns out to be Terry Ellis, later the co-founder of Chrysalis Records, and the aforementioned interview with Time magazine, this time with Dylan being a little more earnest in trying to explain himself.
Pennebacker and Neuwirth offer commentary on both discs, with Pennebacker's especially interesting on the outtakes disc. He says that because he was working with magazines of black-and-white 16 mm film that lasted only 10 minutes apiece, he filmed only what interested him. So he had to be constantly alert as to what was happening around him and Dylan, and instinctively know when to start filming. The resulting documentary shows how unerring was his use of the film stock he had on hand.
It's too bad Pennebacker didn't accompany Dylan to England the following year, when he started doing an electric set with what would become the Band. The infamous cry of "Judas!" would echo throughout rock music history.