Dont Look Back (1967)

“I’ve got my friends… I’m well-situated.”

Synopsis:
Young Bob Dylan is filmed both on stage and off during his final acoustic tour in England.

Genres:

Review:
D.A. Pennebaker’s cinéma vérité documentary about Bob Dylan on tour in England remains a unique and rare glimpse into his early career. From the opening sequence (essentially a music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), in which Dylan flashes homemade lyric cards while Allen Ginsberg lurks in the background, it’s clear that Dylan’s subcultural roots were strong — which is not to say he necessarily comes across as a nice or noble person. As DVD Savant writes in his review:

Dylan definitely ‘performed’, or as Pennebaker tells it, ‘was on’ every time the camera rolled… The Dylan we do see is far from flattering. He’s quiet one moment and pushy the next. He openly baits reporters who ask vague questions in vain hope of ‘drawing him out.’ He can be something of a bully, and there’s definitely a macho tone to the way he and his hepcats hold court.

At least there’s something refreshing in knowing we’re not seeing a sanitized version of Dylan. He may be performing — that is what he does — but he allows us a glimpse inside his world (including scenes with an impossibly young Joan Baez) for a few weeks, which is worth it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinéma vérité filming and cinematography
  • Many memorable moments

Must See?
Yes, as an engrossing cult documentary. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Dont Look Back (1967)”

  1. First viewing – ultimately not must-see, except for real hardcore Dylan fans.

    Sometime after seeing this, I had some weird idea – out of ‘fairness’ – that perhaps I should watch it again… to be sure of how I felt. But then I realized (again) that my first reaction to a film tends to be my strongest and most honest… and I didn’t like the film that much. I found it oddly forgettable.

    It’s not that I dislike Dylan’s music – even though I’ve never been a huge fan, I’ve liked some of his songs a lot.

    But what I enjoy most about the best documentaries is their ability to illuminate their subjects… and I don’t think this doc succeeds much in that department. The ‘Dylan’ that it captures seems to be largely indifferent to the project… which doesn’t leave the viewer with much.

    And who knows what to attribute that to: his newly-found fame? a natural defensiveness that disappears when he’s singing? the act of being ‘studied’ for a documentary? Whatever it is, he just doesn’t seem to come off that well.

    Some of his behavior is easy to understand – esp. when he’s faced with reporters asking dumb (really dumb) questions. But other behavior is perplexing – esp. when he’s being combative for no apparent reason and a borderline asshole.

    There have been some really good documentaries about songwriters. Even just seen as early publicity or promotion of some sort, this one is strangely uninvolving.

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