Film Review: “Rolling Thunder Revue – A Bob Dylan Story” By Martin Scorsese

The best documentary I’ve seen about rock music is “The Last Waltz” which centres on the final concert(s) given by The Band, and includes almost every rock legend of the time, from Bob Dylan, to Neil Young, to Joni Mitchell, to Eric Clapton and even Neil Diamond. “The Last Waltz” was a Martin Scorsese film, and so is “Rolling Thunder Revue ….”.

This appears to be a documentary of the 1975/76  tour across America in which Dylan and his band played 57 concerts, in mostly smallish venues, in a 7 month period. Some of the venues look almost like aged care facilities, some are on Indian reservations, others in towns so mundane that the populace is astounded that Dylan would even bother stopping there. The artists on tour with Dylan include Mick Ronson (ex Bowie guitarist), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Joan Baez, Alan Ginsberg and T-Bone Burnett.

The restored video of these concerts captures Dylan at the absolute top of his game. He stalks and snarls around the stage and puts everything into the songs. His face is painted white, his hat is set with flowers, his teeth are bared yellow. His facial expressions as he sings are priceless. As Joan Baez says, there is nobody who can match his charisma and probably never will be. The concerts are interleaved with discussions with current day Dylan and others involved in the tour.

Something to watch out for is that this film is partially spoof. It presents as a documentary but Scorsese and Dylan have planted practical jokes within it – for instance Sharon Stone appears implying that she and Dylan had an affair on tour (they didn’t), a fake movie director complains that he was the one behind the film (he is a fictional character). Dylan gives a coded warning of this early in the film, when he says “If someone’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell you the truth. If he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” The title also hints at it – “A Bob Dylan Story”.

This is 2 hours and 20 minutes of Dylan at his peak. If you don’t like Dylan, you might be won over at the end. If you do like him, this is unmissable.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

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