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Rolling Thunder Revue

Martin Scorsese's film about Bob Dylan's country-wide tour of small clubs captures the intensity of the time while mysteriously keeping one foot in fiction.

In 1975 Bob Dylan decides to get his gang together to tour small clubs and venues around the country. This is Martin Scorsese’s film of those days — some of it is outstanding, some is a bit weird. First of all, there are some remarkable performances: the rendition of Hurricane is incredible, as is much of the, at the time yet-to-be-released, Desire album. Seeing Dylan perform in these raw little clubs is worth the view in itself.

Time Travel

What really stands out is the portrayal of the time, and how un-prepackaged things were. There is a visceral portrayal of a time that was decidedly non-corporate. The clothes, the cars, the language used, it’s all quite remarkable and wonderful. How much freer everything was then, the range of what was acceptable to wear and what an actual bohemian was. Yes, it’s a nostalgia fest, and a guilty pleasure to those of us who were alive then.

The atmosphere of the village is acute — this is a film that reeks, quite literally, of what it smelled like then: the pot smoke, the lack of washing, the dense patchouli. It was a scene, and these sort of scenes may still exist today, but probably not with that range of characters that were hanging around Dylan in those days. Young Patti Smith jumping on stage, Joni Mitchell showing how to play Coyote, Allen Ginsberg, Rubin Carter…it’s a scene fully alive with personalities and the chaos that surrounds the tour.

A Pinch of Fiction

However, for some reason, the film devotes considerable time to made up events and characters. Sharon Stone never met Dylan, but she gives a very believable performance recalling vividly her time on tour with him. It’s a bit odd, but in a way fits into the whole Dylan oeuvre, in that nothing is what it seems to be. The white face, the magic, the always hidden truths of what is really going on, is at the core of Dylan. When has he ever given a straight interview? Does anyone really get what he is really about?

Man vs Star

In some of the film’s best moments we hear Joan Baez, Dylan’s not-so-well-treated ex-girlfriend, share a bit about what it’s really like to be around Bob. Hint: you don’t really want to be too close to him. Overall, it is really the women who shine here. They are the ones speaking truth to the myth of Dylan, whereas the men seem caught in a headlights of Dylan’s star power.

This film, for all its controversial artifices, is still a great carnival ride. Check it out on Netflix. Let us know what you think.

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David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.
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