(Filmed 1965)

With Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Joan Baez, Albert Grossman, Alan Price, Donovan
Directed by D. A. Pennebaker
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

Guy smoking: "Your lyrics are stoopid, dude."          A groundbreaking cinema verit√© documentary about Bob Dylan's tour of England in 1965, when, although he was becoming a rock and roll star in the States, he was still known as a "protest/folk singer" overseas.  It is an answer to The Beatles A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.  The Beatles' film makes you wish you were the fifth Beatle, sharing in all the fun, but DON'T LOOK BACK often makes you glad you are not in the same room with Bob Dylan.

         It is an uncomfortable portrait of a pop singer who refuses to play the pop music game.  Dylan of course knows he is on camera all the time, so he plays up several sides of his personality throughout the film, but, although he is often charming, he also shows a darker side.  His verbal skewering of an older Time magazine reporter may be acceptable (performer versus critic), but when he applies the same kind of snarky pettiness to a young science student stopping the hotel room before a concert for an college paper interview, it shows that the anger and venom found in some Dylan songs like "Positively 4th Street" and "Like a Rolling Stone" didn't just spring up out of nowhere.  There is plenty of concert footage, though usually only a verse or two of each song, just enough to give the uninitiated a general idea of what Dylan was all about back then - one man, a strange new kind of pop star with a guitar, harmonica and an untrained, nasal voice, able to render audiences into complete respectful silence through his words.  The musical footage, including  Dylan working out some ideas on a hotel piano or playing old Hank Williams tunes on his guitar, is well-placed, keeping the behind-the-scenes moments from becoming cumulatively tedious.  Ironically, the film's best scene does not involve Dylan at all, but rather British pop agent Tito Burns and Dylan's manager Albert Grossman wheeling and dealing in an office to get the best price for Dylan's services out of several clients. - JB

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Copyright © 2008 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee