This is one of my favorite scenes in the great old documentary by D.A. Pennebaker. Bob Dylan is ranting — for the cameras? — and the TIME reporter looks like he walked into the room with his pencil in his hand, trying to understand but not knowing just what he will say when he gets home.
Does the film invite us to laugh at the reporter's cluelessness? I don't think it's that simple. Presumably, we're identifying with Dylan, the central character in the film we've chosen to watch, but gradually, and certainly by this point, we've been given cues to detach ourselves from our pop star hero. Do we think Dylan is being a jerk, mistreating the reporter? The reporter, whose bland doughiness makes a funny contrast to Dylan's intensity, might look as though he doesn't know what is happening here, but I got to thinking that the gears in that head were turning, and he was judging and gathering material. Who was that guy?
His name is Horace Freeland Judson, and he's no dummy. He worked for TIME for 7 years, but he is also — I'm relying on Wikipedia — a historian of molecular biology and a expert on the "deliberate manipulation of scientific data." He's been on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, and he's won a MacArthur Fellowship. As for the film:
[H]e was subjected to what he believes to be a contrived tirade of abuse from Dylan. During Judson's interview, Dylan launched into a verbal attack on Time magazine, and Judson himself. The film's producer Pennebaker does not believe the tirade was planned, but notes that Dylan backed off, not wanting to come across as being too cruel. However, Judson believes the confrontation was contrived to make the sequence more entertaining. "That evening," says Judson, "I went to the concert. My opinion then and now was that the music was unpleasant, the lyrics inflated, and Dylan, a self-indulgent whining show off."Here's a 2007 interview — in TIME Magazine, of all places — with Pennebaker:
Much of the film is devoted to Dylan tangling with the press. Why do you think he played so hard-to-get with reporters?A whole system of media that people had been thrashing for a long time... Ha ha. So much for my "early rejection of mainstream media"! People have been bitching about journalists forever, haven't they? And it's not as though Bob Dylan would have been kinder to bloggers if they'd been around and managed to infiltrate his entourage.
The poor souls, they were sent out to interview him and they didn't know much about him. He turned it into a circus. He was enjoying himself. But I never felt that he was being particularly mean in those interviews.
There's a scene, though, in which Dylan directs a lengthy recrimination of the media at TIME magazine correspondent Horace Judson. I have to be honest: I would have hated to be in Judson's shoes.
I have the story [Judson] wrote. He wrote a very good piece on Dylan. I thought Dylan was kind of nice in the end. He made jokes out of it. When I show the film, especially to kids, they want to see that as someone thrashing TIME. But it isn't that. He's thrashing a whole system of media that people had been thrashing for a long time. I never thought of it as mean-spirited.
I'm following the TIME Magazine convention of writing "TIME" in all caps, which I haven't done in the past. I'm just for the first time noticing that's what TIME Magazine expects from me. Not that I need TIME Magazine, just that I'm noticing. And I'm wondering: Is in an acronym for something? "The [something with an "i"] Magazine Ever"?
UPDATE, May 10, 2011: The NYT obituary for Horace Freeland Judson.