Médias audiovisuels, culture et société

samedi, octobre 15, 2005

DVD review : No direction home*

* This article was initially written for the forthcoming Paris Times November issue.

Second time around
No direction home is a BBC coproduced documentary on Bob Dylan's early years. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it was originally a two part program broadcasted at the end of september within the PBS American Masters Series slot. Now available on DVD, the french release is planned on the 4th November.

Following the long awaited Chronicles vol.1 autobiography in 2004, Bob Dylan once again departed from his reclusive attitude and unprecedently opened Martin Scorsese his archives and recent interviews to work with. Though the combination of such cultural key figures is a true wonder, the two of them already met before on film. In 1978, Dylan was featured live in The Last Waltz, a concert movie covering The Band's farewell to the musical scene. Furthermore, Scorsese recently produced The Blues miniseries, even directing one of the seven movies Feel like going home.

No direction home covers the critical 1961-66 period, matching Martin Scorsese's years as a student filmmaker, prior to the release of his first own street wise movie, Who's that knocking at my door. We are told how a juvenile Robert Zimmerman, out of his nowhere town of Hibbing Minnesota, reinvented himself as Bob Dylan and stormed the uprising Greenwich Village folk scene. All the mentor figures he worshipped and met are summoned : Woody Guthrie, Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Fred Neil, Andy Warhol, D.A. Pennebaker... Some of them were still alive to testify when the first dedicated interviews began.

"Contempory ideas, traditional form"
Blowin in the wind, Like a rolling stone, A Hard rain's gonna fall... : as usual, Martin Scorsese, makes a great use of the great given music material to portray the origins, the meaning and the history making live interpretations of these songs. Here, the young poet is credited for having embraced and expressed the sociopolitical changes of his era, the Civil rights movement, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war, the demonstrations, the Beat generation, the drugs... And at the same time, we get to learn how individualist he was, how embarrassed he was to be quoted as the "Voice of his generation". As Martin Scorsese recalls, reading a Civil rights ceremony declaration the singer made in 63 : "There's no left and right to me anymore. There's only up and down. And I am tryin to go up without thinkin about (...) politics". Dylan was bold to the point of going electric, a gesture received as a betrayal from the folk crowd, with people calling him "traitor" or "Judas !" during his 66 English tour.

Essential viewing
A few stylistic exceptions aside, Martin Scorsese's approach doesn't show off with the subject. He delivers instead a solid documentary with an incredible care put into choosing and editing the material, comprising previously unseen documents like photographs, movie sketches, news footage, 40 years old articles, interviews, concert performances... It's four hours long, quite demanding, but very rewarding. With so much given context and care, his music truly demonstrates its inspirational power. Whether you are a Dylan addict, or simply interested in cinema or music, it's essential viewing.

Sylvain Thuret