I guess the experience of watching this film might be just about as overwhelming as watching one of the concerts. Yet at least the audience there would have had the benefit of context to experience it within.
The experience is ephemeral, and of what we learn of the Revue: picking up and losing acts, constantly changing setlists, it was designed to exist that way. This film suggests its existence as a ‘reaction’, but early on Dylan admits he’s not sure why he did it, or even what significance was contained within the name. It just seemed like a fun idea, and a way to make art with his friends.
Scorsese tries to ground this, but it’s really at its best when just being a document of something that existed for a brief moment somewhere adjacent to reality. The drama of American politics and financial trouble are distant, even the backstage shenanigans are very ill formed. Maybe the intent changed over the edit, but the joy here lies in watching these people simply be.
It’d maybe hold me more if I actually liked Dylan some. He’s an elusive figure throughout, illuminated neither through footage or conversation. An undeniably compelling performer he still comes at the microphone like he’s attacking it, and most every song sung comes at you raw and bitter and furious. Occasionally it’ll try and temper the firebrand that he is, but two almost uninterrupted hours are exhausting.
Like way too late we actually hear Joni Mitchell sing and it finally clicks that there probably was no need for this to be ‘A Bob Dylan Story’. Like he’s inescapable, but there’s a chalkboard where they draw up a running order for the show and it’s full of all these characters who we just don’t get to hear.
One of the best moments here is like directly stolen from Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, and all great concert films should allow themselves a few. It’s a girl crying in the aftermath of what she’s experienced. Something brief and raw and suddenly over.
I get that everyone’s old now, I just wish for a portrait that was more interested in being than reflecting.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese is currently available to stream via Netflix.