Rolling Thunder Revue A Bob Dylan Story director: Martin Scorsese
Rolling Thunder Revue A Bob Dylan Story cast: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Ronee Blakley, Sharon Stone
Rolling Thunder Revue A Bob Dylan Story rating: 3 stars
Bob Dylan is unreal. Yet no one writes about reality the way he does.
“When somebody’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell you the truth. When he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely,” says a 78-year-old Dylan in filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story. It is a chronicle of the 57-show 1975 tour of Dylan in the US and Canada, in which one of the greatest songwriters of our time showed up in white face make-up, alongside a constantly shifting and extraordinary list of collaborators — Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, Jack Elliott, Ronee Blakley, and violinist Scarlet Rivera. The concerts were all held in smaller venues and had the group of musicians, poets, reporters and photographers among others traveling on a tour bus with Dylan as their driver, literally and otherwise. The publicity was done through fliers distributed the same day to the people and Dylan, the troubadour, wore his white make-up mask and a hat with a bunch of flowers sitting on top of it, and sang, I met a white man who walked a black dog…. It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall in tiny but packed venues.
The film has been strung along with the footage that was shot during the tour by cameraman Howard Alk, who was hired by Dylan in 1975 to create a project that was never eventually turned into anything. In Scorsese’s hands, it turns into something unexpected. Rolling Thunder Revue is not just about those 57 shows and the songs Dylan sang. That would be delicious too, yes. But Scorsese is a true Bob Dylan aficionado and harbours the musician in his heart. If he scrapped various myths the world had come to believe about the musician in his 2005 documentary No Direction Home and captured the truth about Dylan, who for a change, didn’t elude the interviewer, in his recent endeavour Scorsese adapts to Dylan’s shifty world and blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. He tailors his filmmaking to the idea of Dylan that we have come to understand as elusive. Besides the idea that the film is presented as the work of a fake filmmaker Stefan Van Dorp, played in the film by performance artiste Martin von Haselberg, also Bette Middler’s husband, Scorsese puts Sharon Stone in the mix. She, in pure documentary style interview, paired with black and white photos of her, talks about being a young 19-year-old aspiring movie actor, who, in 1975, was on the same tour with Dylan. She elaborates on her eyes tearing up when she figured that Just like a woman, despite Dylan telling her in his raspy voice and churlish style, was not about her. This segment, like a slew of bits and pieces in the film, is a charade, and sometimes makes us want the good old real-documentary format back. Stone was never on the tour and was 17 at the time. Other fictional characters include Michael Murphy as Congressman Jack Tanner and Paramount Pictures CEO James Gianopulos as the band’s tour promoter.
By doing this Scorsese keeps alive the idea of Dylan’s history of concocting his own life story and shying away from the world all his life. “Life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything,” says Dylan in the film. “It’s about creating yourself.” It can be called a masterstroke in some ways, but it is also exasperating and perplexing at the same time.
The final section of the two-hour-20 minute documentary is about the song Hurricane, which is also where one’s heart lets loose. Hurricane was a protest song about the boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was falsely jailed for murder. That song and that tour and those lines were significant elements in overturning that verdict, which was based on racism. Carter was an Afro-American. Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties, are free to drink martinis and watch the sunrise/ While Rubin sits like a Buddha in a 10-foot cell, an innocent man in a living hell.
So is this mask-wearing crooner of reality Dylan real or is it the one flirting with Stone? Scorsese plays with the Dylan myth in this film, even savours it. For the fans, it will be a roller coaster ride. Buried in all the goofiness is the legend of Dylan, one who lets us see what he wants us to. One who has a song for everything. One who plays wolf, one who contemplates, and the one who will remain a soundtrack to our lives.