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ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (2019)

Rolling Thunder Revue - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’. It was directed by Martin Scorsese; it starred Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and quite a few of their fellow performers; and it lasts for 142-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a theatrical trailer, unseen footage from the original film, as well as new interviews with Scorsese, David Tedeschi, and Larry “Ratso” Sloman. Please enjoy.


Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese (The Criterion Collection)


What’s the ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’? In 1975, Bob Dylan and a group of his fellow musicians decided to play a number of gigs across the USA in order to celebrate America’s bicentennial.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
Name some of the performers in Dylan’s band: Well, in retrospect, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer because the level of involvement either increased or decreased for everyone involved due to the overall scope of the tour. What I can say, though, is that the supporting cast mainly comprised of Scarlet Rivera (a violinist), Ramblin' Jack Elliott (an American folk singer), Joni Mitchell (a Canadian singer-songwriter), Roger McGuinn (the frontman for 'The Byrds'), Joan Baez (an American singer-songwriter) and Ronnie Hawkins (a rocker).

Which songs did these performers sing? Some of the songs sung throughout the 'Rolling Thunder Revue', included, 'Mr. Tambourine Man', 'One Too Many Mornings', 'South Coast', 'Archer's Song', 'You Are My Sunshine', 'Coyote', 'The Water is Wide', 'Your Cheatin' Heart', plus many, many more.

Were there any other acts performing in the show? Yes, poets mainly, like Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and Patti Smith.

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg
List some of the places the tour stopped at:
 Well, as the tour began in America and then ended in Canada, you might like to know that several gigs took place in select parts of Ontario, Canada, while in America, even more gigs took place in New York City, Massachusetts, the Clinton Correctional Facility in New Jersey, an unnamed Bingo Hall situated in the middle of nowhere, a Native American Community Center, etc, etc, etc.

What type of press did the tour receive? Well, with all due respect, the tour didn’t receive a huge amount of press, apart from a couple of articles written by Larry "Ratso" Sloman, from ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, who was aided and abetted by Sam Shepard, the screenwriter.

Rolling Thunder Revue - Poster
So did the tour perform well?
 I suppose that all depends on who you listen to; because if you listen to the main man himself, Bob Dylan, yes, yes it did, as a lot of fun was had by one and all. But if you listen to the tour promoter, Jim Gianopulos, no, no it didn’t, because at the end of the day not a lot of money was made. In fact, finances were so abysmal, that the film which was meant to accompany this tour couldn’t be completed until 2019! 

Say what? Well, to cut a long story short, in 2005, Martin Scorsese made a film about Bob Dylan called, ‘No Direction Home’, and after it was completed, he was then approached by Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen, who asked him to finish this one next. Which he did, several years later, but only by fudging the facts and perverting the truth. 

What do you mean by 'fudging'? Now, on a conceptual level, you can safely say that this film is a film of two uneven halves: With one half, utilizing real-life footage taken directly from the tour, while the other half, utilized other cinematic sources and a number of face-to-face interviews, both fictitious and genuine, in order to expand the overall narrative. For instance...
  • Martin Von Haselberg played a filmmaker in this film, a filmmaker named Stefan Van Dorp, who claimed to have directed the original tour footage back in the seventies (fashioned around 'the spirit of America'). In reality, though, the tour footage was directed by Dylan himself for the 1978 film, 'Renaldo and Clara'.
  • Sharon Stone, on the other hand, played a fabricated version of herself who was allegedly offered a role on the tour. Whereas, in reality, she was 17 years old at the time and never crossed paths with Dylan or any of his associates.
  • And finally, there's Jim Gianopulos, otherwise known as the poor sod who was supposed to promote Dylan's tour. But in reality, he was a student attending law school at the time it rolled across America.
In addition to this, several scenes featured in this film used segments taken from Georges Méliès’ 1896 silent classic, "The Vanishing Lady". 

Rolling Thunder Revue - Group Shot
So, apart from the actual tour footage and a couple of interviews, was there anything included in the final film that was real and genuine?
Well, even though it wasn't part of the actual 'Rolling Thunder Revue', there was one scene which showed Chief Rolling Thunder and a group of Native Americans enjoying a show staged by Dylan and his band, while another scene featured in the film highlighted Dylan's attempts to free the Boxer, 'Rubin "Hurricane" Carter', by writing and performing a song to aid his cause.

Anything else worth mentioning?  I suppose I should mention that ‘Netflix’ first released this film at the ‘Sydney Film Festival’, Australia, on the 11th of June, 2019, and to correspond with its release, 'Columbia Records' also released a box-set album, entitled, ‘Bob Dylan – The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings’. 




So what did you think of Scorsese's film and how he presented the tour?  Well, in all fairness, I’d say it was a pretty mixed bag because the good was good, the bad was bad, and everything in between was either surreal or confusing to follow. Not totally confusing, mind you, because, visually, everything seen on the screen looked very sharp and clear, despite the footage being an actual workprint. But in the same breath, certain parts were a real head-scratcher and fairly difficult to describe. So much so, that the only real way for me to tell you what I thought of it, coff-coff, is by presenting you with the following two lists…

What did you like about this film?
  • Seeing Bob Dylan driving the tour bus was a right sight for sore eyes as it made him look like a shepherd guiding his flock.
  • Halfway through the film, there was an unintentionally hilarious scene where a group of women were trying to understand poetry sermonized by the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, because despite his acclaim, Allen’s work can sometimes seem pretty pretentious, and from the expressions on their faces, I’m sure these women would have preferred to play bingo than figure out what he was trying to say.
  • Stylistically, I appreciated the kabuki styled face paint each musician wore on stage, and how they managed to integrate their attire to resemble period costumes dating back to the Wild West.
  • Near the end of the film, there was a rather moving scene that I really enjoyed watching because it showed Dylan and the gang hosting a gig at a Native American Community Center to support their opinions and promote unity.  
  • Similarly, I also found another scene near the end of the film rather moving as well. Although, in this case, it was focused on Dylan's attempts to save a black boxer from being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
  • Even though taste is subjective and subjectivity is a very difficult word to spell (thank you, Grammarly), by and large, I’d say most of the music performed throughout this movie was fairly harmonic by design and eclectic by default.
  • It was funny how most of the people living in the seventies either looked unemployed or homeless.


Rolling Thunder Revue - Stage


What didn’t you like about this film?
  • I wasn’t quite sure why a number of fictitious elements were inserted into the film and presented as truth. I mean, was this Martin Scorsese's way of paraphrasing John Ford? 'When the legend becomes fact, print the legend'! Or alternatively, was this extra added element only included to justify the magic motif Scorsese incorporated throughout its telling? Either way, I found this to be a rather confusing element, and occasionally, hindered my enjoyment of what I thought was going to be an honest account of an honest roadshow.
  • Structurally, this film was all over the place and didn’t really seem to adhere to a clear and concise narrative. Which to me, personally, made the overall experience rather tricky to follow, as I would have liked to have seen some sort of roadmap so we could see the progression of the tour, stage, by stage, by stage.

Anyway, all that aside, and on the whole, I would just like to say that this was a fairly enjoyable film, and I'm sure it's a must-watch for diehard fans of Dylan, seventies chic, and musical tours. 

THE RATING: B-

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (2019) ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (2019) Reviewed by David Andrews on January 25, 2021 Rating: 5

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