DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011)

Enlightening documentary delves into the inner sanctum of a reclusive icon.

Published on March 29, 2011

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011)

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011)

Director: Joel Gilbert

Interviews: Jerry Wexler, Scarlett Rivera, Rob Stoner, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Joel Selvin, Mickey Jones Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Winston Watson and many others

Chapters: 1962 – Times Are A – Changin’, 1966 – Electric World Tour, 1967 – Drug Rehab, 1974 – The Comeback, 1975 – Rolling Thunder Revue, 1978 – The Entertainer, 1979 – Busy Being Born…Again!, 1992 – Never Ending Tour

Studio: Highway 61 Entertainment/ MVD Visual MVD51360 [5/1/11]

Video:  16×9 Color

Audio: English PCM Stereo

Region: Region 1 

Length: 110 minutes

Rating: ***1/2

For the last fifty years, the mystique of Bob Dylan has permeated the fabric of American culture. His reclusive aura enhanced his legendary cult status. Raised in Hibbing, Minnesota (on the Mesabi Iron Range), he was transformed by the emerging rock and roll phenomenon, and the spirituality and consciousness of the folk movement. After changing his name (from Zimmerman), he moved to New York to become the next Woody Guthrie. After a meteoric rise as a Greenwich Village folk singer (early sixties), he was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond. Despite modest commercial success, the label stuck with him (after considerable advocacy by Hammond). Once Dylan began writing original material, his career would shift to another gear. Fellow musicians (including the most celebrated group of this era, The Beatles) and the country’s brooding youth movement adopted the cryptic, Ray-ban clad troubadour as the reluctant spokesman for political and social issues of this incendiary decade.

The subsequent odyssey of Bob Dylan has been chronicled over and over. The “electric mutiny’ at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a near-death motorcycle accident, and the controversial “born again” metamorphosis accentuate a unique musical journey. More importantly, his prolific, brilliant discography dominated the popular landscape.

Bob Dylan Revealed
is a fascinating observation of the evolution of an artistic chameleon. Director Joel Gilbert has arranged the various interviews with eyewitnesses in a linear chronology. Starting with the early sixties account of “Hammond’s Folly”, the independence and intellectual ambiguity of Dylan is captured. He rejects the prospect of becoming the next teen idol, but is uncomfortable with the mantle of “protest singer”. Thus a pattern of dichotomy is established. Drummer Mickey Jones chronicles the cataclysmic electric tour that alienated the acoustic fans. He recounts an amusing anecdote detailing how the band (which included most of the self-named group) didn’t realize they were being booed until they heard a tape of the performance. Dylan is portrayed as a communal leader and innovator. His disdain for reporters is evident as he manipulates the pretentious questions. The 1967 motorcycle accident takes on the conspiratorial narrative of a drug rehab coverup. The famous 1974 Comeback Tour chapter includes a surprising photograph of Dylan with Governor Jimmy Carter.

Scarlett Rivera (violinist on the Desire album) offers a plethora of musical insight into the Rolling Thunder segment. Her account of the random meeting with Dylan on the streets of New York is humorous and affectionate. Two additional interviewees (Rubin Carter and Rob Stoner) elucidate the charismatic nature of this complex personality. Carter remembers his admiration for the organized effort that exonerated him. Stoner delivers incisive analysis of Dylan’s recording discipline (no overdubs…ever). Renowned producer Jerry Wexler brings perspective to the sessions for the divisive Slow Train Coming. The exploration of Jesus by the Jewish songwriter is expressed as a secular philosophical quest. Wexler’s commentary is both hilarious and revelatory. Winston Watson (longtime drummer) analyzes the present day enigmatic performer as he continues the improbable two decade, “Never Ending Tour”.

It is unrealistic to expect a definitive synopsis of a mercurial career like this one. Bob Dylan Revealed does integrate first hand scrutiny into a sequential context. The archival photographs are impressive and support the imagery associated with Dylan. The interviews are relaxed and candid. However, the lack of performance footage and recorded music reduces the visceral impact here of possibly the most influential musician of the twentieth century.

– Robbie Gerson

 




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