Martin Scorsese has crafted an unpresuming, highly revealing documentary about the life & music of Bob Dylan, through interviews with Bob & many of his friends, interspersed with historical film footage of the performer from youth onward.
Dylan would seem a natural subject for doing a documentary right. If he's speaking or singing, it should just be good. Yet he has proven illusive through the years, either unwilling to work with documentarians or too unusual a figure & too great a talent for ordinary filmmakers of workmanlike talent to know where to begin. In consequence nearly all the previous documentaries about Dylan have been either ordinary or bad -- until No Direction Home (2005).
It may have taken a film genius like Scorsese to understand the genius of his topic. And to understand that the best way to get it right is to stand out of the way. There are no pyrotechnics here, no "look at me, I'm such a cool documentary maker." It's exclusively Dylan.
There are dozens of great moments in this lengthy documentary. One that sticks out for me is the presence of Alan Ginsberg, who helps underscore Dylan's importance beginning with the Beat generation, much stronger in effect than the appearance of Lawrence Ferlinghetti in The Last Waltz (1978).
As biographical & musical history, it's neither savage nor a white-wash. So if Dylan has told a few lies in his lifetime, they're revealed here. If he has warts, there are warts on screen. But the fact is, he is one of the greatest of all American poets & his existence has touched the lives of so many of us who have grown up with his music as part of the soundtrack of our lives. With neither an intent for adulation nor to tear down an icon, revealing the man as he truly is, without agenda, Martin Scorsese has set before us evidence of something humanly great.
If Dylan seems to have trusted Scorsese to do the job right, & so for the first time made every effort to assist in this intrusion into his life, it may be because the director already more than proved himself in the making of the concert film The Last Waltz.
Here, too, Scorsese stands out of the way & captures the music of The Band, & bits of their personalities, so that they can shine on their own enormous merits, with no intervening filmmaker ego.
I frankly (or foolishly) was not a great fan of The Band before I saw this film, but afterward it was almost painful to realize this was their final concert with the original guys together, & I had already lost what opportunities I'd had to be at any of their concerts.
Friends of The Band are happy to partipate in the farewell concert. That The Band never ceases to be the center of the film even with competition for our senses from such as Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Young & so many others, is an added revelation.
The closing song was the real cincher that here were some deeply talented guys who could've been born into the past, present, or future & at any point in time produced a sound for any generation.
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