(1967)5Scott EngelBob Dylan is one of the most important figures of 20th century America and 1965-1966 was his most prolific period. Within this short time he wrote, recorded, and released three masterpieces (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde), plugged in and got booed at the Newport Folk Festival, toured Europe twice, and changed the face of rock & roll. The first European tour was chronicled in Don't Look Back, a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker, who was wise enough to give very little screen time to stage performances. Instead, he turned the camera on inside limos, hotel rooms, and backstage, giving us the man behind the music. Seeing performers behind the scenes is common today with Behind the Music and similar programs, but in 1965, the idea that someone could be just as interesting off-stage as on was radical thinking. The film captures a critical time in Dylan's career, having just released Bringing It All Back Home, his first "electric, rock & roll" record; he is changing so quickly that he literally can't even keep up with himself. When he booked the tour, he didn't assemble a band, because at that time, he was still a solo performer. Now, he clearly wants to move past the old material, but can not due to the fact no one is backing him up. His frustration runs so deep that at one point in the film when a mic cuts out while he's performing, he keeps playing despite the fact he can't be heard. He's annoyed with journalists who want him to explain what his impact has been when he just wants to keep going, and not look back. Much is made of his savage treatment of the press in this film, but it's the smaller moments that make this a must-see. These include an impromptu hotel room performance of "Lost Highway", a view of Bob working out a song on a piano, and a hysterical conversation where Dylan and his manager, Albert Grossman, try to figure out why the English press is calling him an anarchist. Other treats include very rare footage of Dylan at 19 performing for a small group of blacks in the Deep South and the famous "Subterranean Homesick Blues" clip. Don't Look Back is an uncompromising look at an artist dealing with the burdens of fame while trying to grow, and is required viewing for all music fans.
In 1965, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker accompanied Bob Dylan to England to make a film about the singer/songwriter's British tour. At the time, no one could have known how fortuitous Pennebaker's timing would prove to be. Within a few months of this tour, Dylan would forsake his role as The Conscience of Folk Music to pick up a Fender Stratocaster and play rock and roll. Within a year, Dylan would suffer a motorcycle accident that would put him out of commission for nearly 18 months. Recording several brilliant solo performances and capturing a wealth of fly-on-the-wall footage of Dylan's interactions with friends and strangers, Pennebaker caught Dylan on the cusp of a radical career change, and the man in this film seems to be thrashing about in his shackles, looking for some sort of escape route.