When acclaimed documentary filmmaker D A Pennebaker (Monterey Pop, The War Room) filmed Bob Dylan during a three week concert tour of England in the Spring of 1965, he had no idea he was about to create one of teh most int... more »imate glimpses of the rock legend« less
Phrodoe | Another day older and deeper in debt... | 01/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't Look Back is the best documentary about a musician on tour that I've ever seen. I can't say enough good things about it, and it is all I can do to imagine how D. A. Pennebaker simultaneously made himself so ubiquitous and so unnoticed as to capture the remarkable footage that he got on Dylan's British tour. From the incredible sequence of Joan Baez warbling the then-unreleased "Percy's Song" even as Dylan is pounding out the lyrics on his typewriter, to the revealing moments where Dylan manager Albert Grossman quite literally strong-arms the BBC into a high-paying deal for a tv appearance, to Dylan himself, at the most accessible he would ever be in his long career, alternately jousting and jesting with the British press, most of whom seem completely ignorant as to which is the jest and which is the joust. Dylan again, talking with a fan who doesn't like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" because "it just doesn't sound like you," (which was the whole point of the song), and Dylan's gritted-teeth reply: "Oh, I see what kind of person you are right away." Dylan yet again, in an astonishingly unguarded moment, bawling out everyone in his hotel room over a wineglass Alan Price dropped out of the window, acting like the only responsible adult in a kindergarten class...and when a drunken Price admits the deed, Dylan lets him have it with both barrels and finally kicks him out, despite Price having been Dylan's best friend in England throughout the entire film. In fact, a lot of this movie is about Dylan shedding elements of his persona, entourage, and his music. Bringing it All Back Home had just been released when Don't Look Back was being filmed, and the album served as a harbinger of the rock and roll shift Dylan's music was about to take. It's far more noticeable in hindsight, of course, but in this film you see Dylan breaking his ties with his folkie past. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" being shown right up front is a dead giveaway, but you may miss some of the more subtle signs: His growing disenchantment with being pegged as a folkie, evidenced by both the abovementioned reaction to his fans and his jests/jousts with the press, both harbingers of the surreal "anti-interviews" Dylan would give over the next few years. Then there is the slow disintegration of his relationship with Baez -- there is a moment about midway or 2/3 of the way through Don't Look Back where Joan walks out of Dylan's hotel room...and though she appears later in the film through the judicious use of editing, Baez has since admitted that that was the moment she walked out of Dylan's life. Another folk-music tie broken, as much by Dylan as by Baez (his near-indifference to her through much of the film is chilling...). There is also Dylan's discomfort with the "Donovan issue", both in being compared to Donovan and in meeting the guy. You can see the uncertainty all over Bob's face during this sequence, and the nicer he tries to be to Donovan -- who quite honestly sholdn't even be in the same room with Dylan -- the funnier the whole thing gets. Then there is Dylan's meeting with the President of Dylan's British fan club -- the bespectacled weedy fellow who looks like he just stepped whole and breathing out of the nightclub scene in A Hard Day's Night. Dylan's conversation with this guy is polite on the surface, but again, there are undertones of discomfort, even dislike, so palpable that they make you want to cringe. Dylan is so clearly disenchanted with some aspects of his career, even though he puts on a game face and acts satisfied with what he's doing, that it's a wonder he didn't completely telegraph his shift to electric music. (Actually, he did -- it's just that most people were too blind to see it coming at the time.)As I said above, the footage in this film is incredibly revealing. Never again would Dylan be so accessible, so honest and forthright, as he was in Don't Look Back -- and even here, as I've said, you can sense his withdrawal from that accessibility begin. How Pennebaker managed to capture all this intense, remarkable, human footage of Dylan and co., without his subjects noticing or caring about how they came across, is beyond me. Few music documentaries, before or since, have had such verve, or such nerve, as to show their subjects in such a potentially-unflattering light (the only two I can think of that come anywhere close are Gimme Shelter, the Maysles Brothers' astonishing Stones/Altamont document, and Let It Be, the Beatles' on-film disintegration (and final live performance) which stupidly remains out of print). Don't Look Back does all that and more, never cheating, never prevaricating or retreating, always telling the truth. It was a rare achievement for its time, and a film that could never be made today.(FINAL NOTE: All right, Messrs. Dylan and Pennebaker -- now that Don't Look Back has been remastered and rereleased, how about doing the same with the long-missing and much-missed 1966 followup, Eat the Document? It's no less raw, revealing, and astonishing than its predecessor, and is richly deserving of a rerelease. Here's hoping!)"
Don't look ... listen!
Don Eldredge | Sherman, TX United States | 01/05/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The best thing about the DVD version of "Don't Look Back" is the commentary. It puts a lot of things into perspective. But be aware that this is no restored film. The flaws, such as cracks in the negative, are made even more visible by the clarity of DVD. And read carefully: The full-length versions of the songs from the 1965 British tour are presented here in "audio" only. The fact that there isn't a single completed song in the film has always been a sore spot with me, but the filmmaker talks about that on the commentary. All in all, a look at Bob Dylan back in '65 is worth the time to any music fan. And this is currently the best way to view it, despite the few flaws."
Dylan, From 16mm to DVD!
bump | Cape Cod, MA | 02/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"1965, the British Tour is on and pirated Radio Caroline is pumpin' out one salty Bob Dylan song after another to the delight of their thirsty listeners. "Don't Look Back" gives you a raw look into inquisitive English journalism and zealous teenagers who are still flyin' high on dizzy Beatles fumes. Tracks of the DVD include rare versions of Dylan classics, a discography and an early music video that "MTV of the 60's" surely would have had in hot rotation. The director's cut is your audio tour guide to the people, places and faces of Albert Grossman, Alan Price, Donovan, and Joan Baez. Compared to D.A. Pennebaker's later project "Sweet Toronto", D.L.B. is a remarkable piece of work that's been documented as one of rock's finest movies. Once viewed, you'll have a clear understanding as to what makes Bob Dylan a really cool cat and how he's impressed millions with his honest approach to song writing."
The Calm Before The Storm: UK Tour 1965
C. Borg | Attard, Malta | 04/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This black and white film portrays Dylan's last acoustic tour in such an intimate and natural way that the viewer gets the impression of participating in its gradual unfolding. Shot by DA Pennebaker as cinema verite', the innovative techniques used in the film appropriately mirror the innovation that was taking place in popular music at the time, spearheaded primarily by Bob Dylan. The viewer, like a fly on the wall, gets to see Dylan in different settings and situations: moments of tension backstage, hanging out with the likes of Alan Price, Donovan, John Mayall and Marianne Faithful, giving interviews, singing old Hank Williams songs in hotel rooms with Joan Baez, on stage in theatres across England, fooling about with Bob Neuwirth. It's all there.....and more!
Apart from the original film, the DVD offers the viewer the unique opportunity of seeing the film (again!) with an ongoing commentary by Pennebaker and Neuwirth themselves, who shed light into what went into nearly every scene.
Besides, the DVD also includes 5 previously unreleased audio tracks (crystal clear quality) recorded in various locations in England during that same tour.
A fascinating and revealing experience not only for the diehard Dylan fan."
So good it hurts
E. Karasik | Washington, DC United States | 06/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film gives the viewer a candid view of an incredibly talented, precocious, irreverent, and actually quite beautiful young Dylan revealed in wonderful concert and behind-the-scenes footage. After seeing the film I felt that Dylan's legendary arrogance has been perhaps misunderstood -- actually he was pretty humble and engaging with school kids and fellow musicians -- more interested in learning from them than in showing off his own talents. What comes off as arrogance is his almost allergic aversion to simplistic, cliched, or hypocritical concepts imposed upon him by clueless, syncophantic journalists and fans. His trenchant verbal sparring with a reporter from Time magazine, in which he argues that the readers of Time are settling for secondhand drivel and that Time has too much to lose by telling the truth, is one of the most refreshing and amusing interviews I've ever seen. Likewise, one can appreciate his struggle to avoid being pigeonholed as either a political activist or a folk singer; certainly his political sensibilities are profound, but he understandably chaffed at the attempts to turn him into a mouthpiece for any single cause or established movement. His instinctive fight to keep the doors of perception ajar has proven well founded; it is precisely his protean shape-shifting and incessant search for new levels of meaning and musical expression that have made him such a timeless icon. The one sour note in the film was his obviously strained relationship with Joan Baez, not only a brilliant singer in her own right but also a witty mimic and comic, whom he relegates to groupie status and mostly ignores. Given the fact that she invited Dylan to share her stage when he was virtually unknown, one would have expected Dylan to have invited her to sing a song or two. What a waste of talent -- but then, apparently their romantic relationship was in its death throes, so it may be unfair to judge. Ultimately, this film made me sad simply because it shows the sheer brilliance of a person at a moment in time that is now forty years in the past. We can look back, but we do so at the risk of having our hearts broken."