September 27, 2005

"So what exactly did Scorsese do?"

I'm not quite getting all the fuss over the "No Direction Home" documentary about Bob Dylan. I had the same questions the reviewer in The Guardian had:
I think most people watching will assume that [the interview with Bob Dylan] is new, most probably with Scorsese himself asking the questions. Certainly there's nothing to suggest that it isn't. It turns out though, that this interview happened in 2000, and it was conducted by Jeff Rosen, Dylan's manager. ...

It seems strange that Scorsese apparently turned down the opportunity to speak more with Dylan, and instead ran with the old stuff from five years ago. So what exactly did Scorsese do? An (admittedly very beautiful) editing job? But then what did David Tedeschi, the editor, do? Was Scorsese principally just a name to use as ammunition in persuading people to surrender their archive material?
Now, I haven't watched the whole documentary yet. I've only watched the second half of the first half. But it seemed amazingly old fashioned to me. I'm not surprised it's on PBS. It looks quite PBS-y. And I'll admit to being bored by now with the basic Bob Dylan story -- you know, the one where the climax is that he goes electric and pisses off folksingers. I'd prefer something with a little more edge, like the old documentary "Don't Look Back" or the book "Positively 4th Street" or Dylan's own book "Chronicles." I really detested all the drawn out, reverent material about about the role of folksinging in politics. It just didn't bring out how phony that was for Dylan. The most authentic thing about him is the way he felt like a phony doing that -- as I see it. "Another Side of Bob Dylan" -- I love that album -- that meant the non-phony side, didn't it? ("Ah, but I was much older then. I'm younger than that now.")

I'll watch the whole thing and come back and admit it if I think this preliminary view is wrong. Feel free to argue with me in the comments.


Mark Kaplan said...

No Direction Home includes pieces of Don't Look Back. You make a great point about these being old interviews.

Nevertheless there's a lot of really good stuff here: things to think about. I felt badly for Dave Van Ronk who could barely breathe during his interviews. Alan Ginsberg appeared mostly paralyzed on his right side, including his mouth and his arm. I thought that the most astute points were made by Tony Glover. It was interesting to learn that Dylan stole his friends LP's to listen to them.

The most fascinating part of No Direction Home to me is the evolution of the music. Listening to the alternative versions of so much of Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde from the accompanying CD set adds very much to the entire experience.

Mark Daniels said...

I'd had every intention of watching 'No Direction Home' last night. But as 9:00 approached, I decided to read instead. I guess I did so because I had the impression from the previews that a lot of it was composed of footage I'd already seen and that the entire approach to the Bobby Zimmerman saga was the same old same old.

Even if it isn't composed of film images I've seen before, your preliminary reaction makes me feel that I made the right call. Your description appears to what I'd expected.

Now I can skip seeing the thing and not feel guilty for my decision! Maybe I'll just pop 'Blood on the Tracks' onto the computer now.

(I wonder what Scorcese did do?)

Ann Althouse said...

Mark: Sounds like you need a TiVo, actually.

XWL said...

Aren't your views on this documentary the Boomer version of Apostasy?

(what would the appropriate punishment be, no coffee house privileges for 2 weeks?)

Ann Althouse said...

LeRoy: Not at all!

me said...

The Dylan documentary is not about Scorcese, it is a celebration of the genious of Dylan. The early footage is breathtaking and reveals an almost Christ-like transformation.

I came to Dylan with New Morning, having been born in 1962. I was lucky enough to catch Blood On The Tracks the day it was released, hearing it on a late night radio show. And then saw Dylan on the 1977 Desire Tour.

But it wasn't until this documentary that the mystery and lack of mystery was all put together for me. This complete fish out of water growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota. And a series of coincidences that led him to Woodie Guthrie and then down South in the heart of the civil rights movement.

More than any musician in the 20th Century, more than Coltraine, Billy Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles, Dylan took songwriting to a level that will probably never be seen again. He channeled God.

aidan maconachy said...

I have never understood the appeal of Robert Zimmerman. Maybe it's because I probably wouldn't pay to see a laid back skinny guy with messy hair who can't sing, bar chord all night long.

Dylan helped spawn a generation of people with very particular political views ... some of whom you saw this past week at demonstrations around the country. A few among them called for the destruction of Israel, others behaved like small time thugs and America haters (by the way, Hitchens had this piercing insight) ...

Was there a single placard saying, "No to Jihad"? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, "Yes to Kurdish self-determination" or "We support Afghan women's struggle"? Don't make me laugh.

I much prefer PERFORMANCE with a capital P. I would have paid big money to have seen Angela Gheorghiu playing Mimi in La Boheme or to have a front row seat at a Paco de Lucia flamenco guitar recital.

But Bob Dylan ... well okay ... sort of catchy bar chording and he can rhyme couplets I have to admit. He also has a practiced look that somehow compounds chronic laziness with dissipation, that some people mistake for a sign of genius. I guess if you're into fly lyrics that drift on cryptic generalizations ... Bobbo's your man.

Sure I would watch the documentary. It would be kind of amusing to watch him slouching around and tossing signs, rousing himself from a dope addled space to dish the the old "times they are a'changin ".

He's good for a laugh.

Ann Althouse said...

Saul: Am I correct in guessing that you are fond of PBS documentaries generally? Clearly, we have very different taste. And Scorsese's name is being used to promote the documentary as a work of art, so that matters a lot.

Aidan: A lot of us think Bob Dylan is really rather right wing. He was uncomfortable with those lefty folksingers would initially embraced him.

PatCA said...

I went back to PBS for it, long tired of the PBS-ness of PBS, and found it interesting. How seriously young audiences took music, how dangerous standing for civil rights really was--a good history lesson for anyone who thinks mass culture was always mass culture.

And Scorsese probably didn't interview Dylan now because he's incomprehensible.

MS documentary on American film is quite good, also.

aidan maconachy said...

Ann - I think his views have changed over the years, yes ... but I would hardly characterize him as right wing. I'm referring more to the cultural revolution of the sixties that he was instrumental in spawning. The values etc that came from that period. Bob Dylan as symbol if you like.

I don't strenuously dislike his music. I mean I wouldn't leap up and turn it off (we even have some on CD). I just prefer a different kind of genre.

aidan maconachy said...

patca the civil rights movement was crucially important at the time, yes. What is has evolved into in terms of current left wing political agendas is another matter.

Ron said...

The PBS documentary may have been good at one point, but they've seemed stuck in that moment, and so the docs seem really dull to me.

and I never liked Ken Burns either, and he hasn't gotten any better with each new doc.

Mark Daniels said...

Okay, so I lied. Just as I finished posting my comment about not watching the Dylan documentary, my wife and son had tuned it in on the TV in the family room. So, I sauntered in and watched it with them.


The film itself: Nothing special about it;

Peter Yarrow: Clueless;

Joan Baez: More interesting and insightful than I'd ever heard her before and while I recognize that she has a lovely voice, I can't tolerate listening to it for long. The only Baez LP I've ever been able to stand was the admittedly over-produced 'Diamonds and Rust';

Bob Dylan: A jerk who can write a song and with his studied cryptic-ness plays the media better than he ever played the guitar or harmonica. I love his music and that's really all we know about him.

Martin Scorcese: He just carried off a pile of easy money.

me said...

I liked the Jazz Series, simply because the raw footage is amazing. Other than that, I don't get drawn into much PBS stuff. (The piece on Oswald was pretty amazing, and partially debunked some conspiracy theorists). And I was only reminded to watch the Dylan show by an ad in Isthmus, so I missed the Scorcese hype.

I'm sure if you are an incredible Dylan fan, and saw most of this in other places, it would be like buying a greatest hits collection. But having only been periodically drawn to Dylan over the years, it was very meaningful to me, to quickly be told his story, as well as some answers to why he did what he did artisically. I've heard the Al Kooper story about his organ on Rolling Stone, but to hear Al tell it, is just that more interesting.

And just knowing that Bob was this underdog Jewish Folksinger coming from the Mid-West, swallowing up everything he could learn from his elders, and taking it much farther than any other single person has ever done.

I'm a fan of Bruce Springsteen, but Dylan can make Springsteen seem like Rick Springfield.

Dylan can be powerful when he wants to be.

Knowing that he was some punk stealing albums, just makes him that much more of a gothic figure.

vbspurs said...

OMG. Everyone is talking about this documentary tonight.

I was supposed to watch it, and ended up catching Because of Winn-Dixie.

I should've gone with Bob Dylan, as much as I detest him and his era.

(Great autobio of his late last year though -- I recommend it to all who haven't read it)

Saul: Am I correct in guessing that you are fond of PBS documentaries generally?

This generally means Ken Burns.

Let's just say, if it weren't for the late Shelby Foote, his documentaries would have the feel of stale toffee.

(Although Frontline and Nova are unmissable for me)


miklos rosza said...

I never experienced the sort of intense connection some (uh, Saul) seem to, but I think I own three of his CDs. I really have to be in a certain mood. I represent all those left lukewarm.

Ann Althouse said...

Let me be clear that I was a big Bob Dylan fan when it mattered the most, and Bob Dylan is deeply imprinted on me. I started listening to him (and listening really obsessively) when "Bringing It All Back Home" was the current record, and then "Highway 61" came out. From there, I went back to the earlier records. I was a teenager and quite impressionable. I very much felt that Bob Dylan was revealing to me what life was really about, and he created in me an intense longing to get to the kind of way of life that seemed to be his.

Also, I'm watching the movie from the beginning now, trying to catch up to the part I saw last night and I'm enjoying a lot of it, though I still have the opinion that it's old fashioned, PBS-y, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with Martin Scorsese.

Pancho said...

The best and most interesting part of the whole film was hearing Joan Baez be pissed off that Dylan wouldn't go to her protest rallys. Good on you Bob.

I have to say also that I've become a bigger fan of Dylan in the last few years. Mainly because he chides all those who didn't think that he should just be a gifted human being and not a "spokesman for a generation".

Meade said...

As bloggers might say, watch the whole thing. Superb editing by David Tedeschi flawlessly directed by Scorsese. Nearly four hours and it never once bogs down. So it's all archival film -- yes, well, it's a documentary.

Brilliantly, Scorsese punctuates the entire story with footage from the '66 tour, where Dylan's artistry climaxes and his music alternately crystalizes and melts just before he, as Bob Dylan, arrived at his sudden personal crash. Something happened in art and popular music in 1966 - something historically and culturally important.

Now you know.

Ann Althouse said...

lmeade: I'm still trying to figure out what Scorsese did (as opposed to Tedeschi). It's basically an editing job, so what did S do "flawlessly"?

Hamsun56 said...

Dylan is an artist and not a polemic for a particular political view or philosophy. The truth he follows is what he feels at a particular point in time. What makes him so interesting is the mecurial nature of what he feels and sees - it changes not only from song to song but often within a song or even a line in a song.

Ann is right in her point that a number of people on the right view Dylan as being on their side. There is a website devoted to the proposition that bob is "right" ( ). The guy who runs the site stretches sometimes in placing Dylan's lyrics in a rightwing context, but argues very effectively that Dylan does not belong to the left. He aslo wrote a good review of the NDH documentary.

About Dylan's singing. You may not like his voice or style, but to say that Dylan can't sing is like saying that Picasso (after seeing one of his cubist or abstract paintings) can't paint. Obviously he is no Pavorotti, but he is a master at phrasing and has an unique ability to convey a wide range of moods and emotions through his voice.

Robert R. said...

I think the documentary was probably overhyped, but for those of us who are vaguely familiar with the storyline but haven't seen Don't Look Back or read the books, I think it's a very clear and occasionally insightful explanation of Dylan's rise and transition. Particularly in Dylan's rejection of being pigeon-holed and how he broke out of that.

Ironically, I see earlier in the comments Dylan is still called a "lefty protest singer" as a label. Certainly that's true of part of his career, although I think even then Dylan is often vague in his politics, but that's primarily based on less than 3 albums of material. And, I find "Blowin' in the Wind", "The Times They Are A'Changin'" "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", and more, not particularly tied down to a topical issue of the time but more general, universal, and timeless. That's not to say that Dylan wouldn't be classified as a "lefty" of the time, but his "leftishness" was mostly limited to justice and equal rights to the poor and minorities, (see "Pawn in the Game" or "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" for exanple) and being against war, particularly the nuclear kind (see "Let Me Die in my Footsteps"). Dylan was a general sentiments kind of "protest singer" and not a "vote for this guy" or "Castro is a great leader" type of singer.

As for what Scorsese did, I think it was more of a job of sorting through a mountain of material and picking out what he considered the most pertinent and interesting, film and music. He obviously decided the overall structure of the film, with Dylan getting booed showed early in contrast to the general acclaim he was getting. Not saving the booing as a "surprise" moment was probably a good choice on Scorsese's part. And while I doubt Scorsese actually cut any film, I'm sure he gave directions to the editors along the lines of "juxtapose these three pieces of film with this song and emphasize the audience reaction", and such. You know, basic director stuff.

Meade said...

" It's basically an editing job, so what did S do "flawlessly"?"

Someone had to decide what would be edited. Scorsese only uses film we've seen before when it's necessary to telling the story. I think his brilliance is largely shown by what he chose to leave out (which includes Scorsese himself). Is that just editing? I don't think so. Scorsese gets the essential Bob Dylan story; Scorsese tells the essential Bob Dylan story.

Unknown said...

Please don't give away the ending, I recorded it for future viewing! :-)

aidan maconachy said...

Andrew - I'm nodding off here but I will try to make sense:)

Yes, yes - of course I understand his appeal. He doesn't appeal to me personally and I do think he is wildly overrated, however ... popular culture is no index of taste. The Sex Pistols at one time were considered virtually iconic. Remember Tiny Tim? I mean pop culture is weird, it just takes a certain coalescence of influences to come together and suddenly someone who is actually rather mediocre is propelled to mythic status, and everyone begins worshipping at the altar. It's a bit like the king with no clothes - no single person had the courage to say what they really thought.

Part of his appeal I think was his androgynous appearance ... the waif without a home. Feminism was revving up, and the old macho ideal was changing - suddenly vulnerability in a male was appealing, even sexy. Everyone wanted a part of him. Some females I knew kind of "adopted" him in a weird way. But none of this really speaks so much to his talent, as it does to a certain fly knowingness he had and a brilliant way of finessing the camera and seducing an audience.

You are suggesting that he wasn't channeling the political zeitgeist of the day consciously I take it ...

"Dylan is an artist and not a polemic for a particular political view or philosophy."

I'm not sure I agree. If it wasn't conscious, it was certainly inadvertent. He "took on" the persona of the harbinger, Pied Piper if you will, who was helping to usher in a new order. To what extent he consciously was being manipulative of the political climate of the day, is another issue ... he was always very cagey when it came to his own explicit views.

I think Dylan is a phenomena. It's just that my preferences in music tend to be in a different area.

vbspurs said...

I mean pop culture is weird, it just takes a certain coalescence of influences to come together and suddenly someone who is actually rather mediocre is propelled to mythic status, and everyone begins worshipping at the altar. It's a bit like the king with no clothes - no single person had the courage to say what they really thought.

Dear me. I have to stop being inspired by this blog and its commenters to write up posts.

On the heels of the Dylan documentary, and due to the "Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop & Protest" which airs today, Wednesday night, on your various PBS affiliates, I wrote up a challenge post:

Country Music Saves America

Somewhere along the line, from Kate Smith to Kanye West, popular music changed...

And Country Music took up the mantle.


Hamsun56 said...

Your comparison to the Sex Pistols or Tiny Tim seems to suggest that you view Dylan as some sort of novelty act that happened to come along at the right place at the right time. What really impresses me about Dylan is the breadth of muscial styles and genres that he works with. It's hard to believe that the same artist who recorded Highway 61 Revisted, also recorded Nashville Skyline, The Basement Tapes, Blood on the Tracks and Slow Train Coming (just a few examples). Is there any other popular muscian that has hadsuch an impact in so many different genres? (Or far that matter created new genres?) Surely that attests to a quality other than having the abilty to manipulative oneself into the prevailing zeitgeist or pop fad.

I agree that he at times, during the 60's, took on the mantle of the "pied piper" or prophet and his present day distancing himself from that role is not wholly convincing.

Meade said...

Victoria: Interesting blog post. If you haven't already read this, I think you'll find it worthwhile. There is a patriotism which honors and celebrates the 'land where our fathers died' without cloying sweetness. I think many of Bob Dylan's songs express that patriotism. After 1970, one could begin with New Morning. Cheers.

Meade said...

Here is Scorsese speaking for himself. On PBS, by golly!

vbspurs said...

There is a patriotism which honors and celebrates the 'land where our fathers died' without cloying sweetness. I think many of Bob Dylan's songs express that patriotism. After 1970, one could begin with New Morning.

Sometimes all one needs in life, is a person to take you by the hand, and show you a new way of looking at things.

Thanks, LMeade.

I absolutely loved that article -- and it has made me curious to re-visit a singer I thought I would never like.

And the line Wilentz used too:

Not quite five months after this concert, the French pop singer Johnny Hallyday plays the Olympia.

Where the US offered Dylan, Hendrix and Joplin to define an era, France offered Hallyday, Gainsbourg, and Birkin.

I guess you can't hit a cultural homerun all the time.


Lars said...

I loved it but all those 60s scenes make me feel old as Joan Baez. Oh yeah, I am.

Wave Maker said...

...Quintessentially "PBS'y," for sure.

while I'd never describe any artist as "God-like," saul, I have to agree that Dylan's songs evoke emotion in me like no other songwriter -- especially thoe on Blood on the Tracks.

I thought the piece was a little too much romanticization of the "movement."

I thought Dylan's interview by 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley was far more illuminating.

Ann Althouse said...

lmeade: In that interview he says "we looked at all the footage"-- note the prounoun -- and then, after hemming and hawing, says "I thought it would be an interesting challenge to pull a narrative from that" note the pronoun. I still have the question who did what. What was Scorsese's contribution? He used existing footage, he looked at it, presumably with the editor Tedeschi, and he saw that it was a big challenge. How exquisitely uninformative! And Scorsese isn't famous for being modest and not talking about himself.

Ann Althouse said...

Wave Maker: Here's my old post on the Ed Bradley interview.

And while I'm at it, here's an old post about Dylan's book "Chronicles," which I blogged in detail, chapter by chapter.

One thing about both of those things that's different from the PBS show is that you see his elusive, evasive quality. The PBS documentary is more solidly in the real world, showing other people reacting to him (because that's the available footage). is heavy on the reminiscences of friends, so it's very heavy on the war stories -- peace stories? -- of aging folk singers. I'm spending a LOT of time contemplating Dave Van Ronk's horrendous teeth and being incredibly irritated by Peter Yarrow and not wanting to see any more Pete Seeger. And my, didn't Maria Muldaur age strangely!

me said...

To put the Sex Pistols in the same sentence with Tiny Tim, speaks volumes. The Sex Pistols were the most revolutionary band of the 70s. And right wingers should appreciate Mr. Lydon. He has written the most powerful anti-abortion song ever recorded, "Bodies."

I was lucky enough to catch the Pistols two years ago, when they did a complete version of Never Mind the Bullocks. With Matlock on Bass (the original bassist), they put AC/DC to shame. These boys can ROCK!

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Bravo LMeade!

"I think [Scorsese's] brilliance is largely shown by what he chose to leave out (which includes Scorsese himself)."

What an achievement to keep his own ego and imprint off the film.

I don't know why Ann is so hot on this topic of what Scorsese did. Why is that question more pertinent here than in ANY film? There is no function in making a film which is exclusively the director's - not casting, filming, editing, nothing (well, sometimes the writing.) They forever hover over the experts in each discipline saying yes and no.

I would also suggest that Scorcsese's role was, as Ann said, to be a magnet for quality archival material and quality people. But he no doubt also acted as a large shield, able to keep a lot of crap, hangers-on, etc OUT of the process.

His name appears on this film more like a trusty meat inspectors stamp of approval than as an artist.

Ann Althouse said...

Stranger: I'm hot on the subject of what Scorsese did -- and please folks, note how to spell his name and get it right from now on! -- because his name was prominently used to get attention and promote the film. It promised not just another PBS documentary -- and I'm hotly opposed to PBS-style documentaries -- and not just a show about a great artist, but a film that is itself a work of art. I don't like to be scammed. There's also the political angle. When I tuned in at first, in the second half of the first night's show, it was all about lefty politics, laid on very thick. That did not seem to be what Scorsese was ever about. He's a man who loves 60s music and cares about characters. I wasn't seeing that. I was seeing PBS, not Scorsese. And I was irked.

James said...

I am not in the least a Dylanologist, but the song Amy linked to (which I had heard before but never before paid close attention to) does have remarkably conservative lyrics, especially the part mocking the idea that liberty means equality. And in his recent book, he said his favorite politician was Barry Goldwater! He certainly did smoke pot, live a Bohemian lifestyle, etc., but he can't be pigeonholed as a doctrinaire leftist.
P.S. Allan Ginsberg has been dead since 1997. That clearly means that that was old interview footage of him. Was this true of other interview subjects? Did Scorsese interview ANYONE?

aidan maconachy said...

If you actually look more closely at the context of what I said above, you will see that my reference to the Sex Pistols and Tiny Tim was not an attempt A ... to compare them with Dylan, or B ... a critque on their respective merits ... but rather I used them as an example of the capricious and trend driven nature of popular music.

I dislike pop music because I find a lot of it shallow, silly and fraudulent. When you actually sit down and read the lyrics of a lot of these bands, they are laughably inane for the most part or simply stupid ... i.e. Pink Floyd's "we don't need no education - teachers leave those kids alone".

Pop music turns people into demi-gods who have contributed nothing to our society except decadence and questionable "visions". Jim Morrison was an alcohol besotted, drug addled vegetable who drowned in his bath and he is an icon for many.
I find all of this pathetic and sad.

Moreover the message behind the vast majority of this music is negative, narcissistic and often explicitly degrading. So called "gangsta" rap and other hip hop genres refer to women as "bitch" and "ho", engage in low grade abusive characterizations and the society REWARDS these "artists" with prizes and awards. No wonder guys like Colin Powell and Bill Cosby beg to differ ... as do a lot of other African Americans on the right who are infuriated with the media glorification of this type of culture and the implication that this represents African American attitudes.

Pop music always tends to the lowest common denominator. It's a lot harder to appreciate the artistry of a soprano like Kathleen Battle than to gravitate toward music that is based on hype on opportunism, and requires no rigorous training or high expertise.

I don't see Dylan as somehow elevated in some "special" category. When I read his lyrics there is a lot I don't like; a lot I find silly and simply bad poetry. The cult that has emerged around this person verges on the ridiculous. Someone mentioned a site called "Right Wing Bob Dylan" - how insane is that? Any look in-depth at this man's history and his overall influence makes it clear that anyone who is trying to co-opt him as "right wing" is grasping at straws. I'm sure Dylan is happy to know he is being co-opted by everyone on the planet, even by the Taliban ... that's what he was all about.

When he going to put out a tune entitled - "Everybody Must Get Suckered"?

Meade said...

Ann: Why did you tune into Part 1 halfway through? That strikes me as an odd way to view any narrative work of art - particularly a movie. It would be like walking into a seminar which is half over and proceeding to question with great suspicion just what the professor's contribution is to the discussion and what is in fact the work of her graduate assistants, and then blaming your fractured perspective on the transparent ideological bent of the college providing the forum.

Your fractured perspective, for what it is, might even be accurate.

But I'm afraid, in this case, I don't find your deconstruction of Scorsese's movie valid or even very interesting.

...Dave Van Ronk's horrendous teeth and being incredibly irritated by Peter Yarrow and not wanting to see any more Pete Seeger...

Yes. I had the same thoughts and feelings. I don't think it's an accident that S. let's us see and feel those things about those characters.

And my, didn't Maria Muldaur age strangely!

And now you're just being pissy. And mean. Which, of course, is the new nice.

Watch. The. Whole. Thing. please.

Anonymous said...

Lmeade is hot hot hot!

"Why did you tune into Part 1 halfway through? That strikes me as an odd way to view any narrative work of art"

If, Ann, you are so intent on finding Captial "A" Art in anything with Scorsese's (Sp!) name on it, why are you showing up late?

(The rest of LMeade's nitpicking I don't agree with. Ann's blogging runs the gamut of tightly constructed prose to impulsive musings. I got no problem with that.) ;->

And again, I challenge Ann's whole exercise - - just because you get excited seeing Scorsese's name, doesn't obligate HIM to perform in the way you are accustomed.

In fact, you're sounding a little like all those folkies sceaming "Judas" at Dylan in '66. Although, in this case, I suppose it's as if Scorsese has gone from electric to acoustic.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think there is another possibility here....

Maybe Ann's question should have been "So what exactly was Scorsese allowed to do?" Perhaps the lack of excitement Ann (correctly) sees in the film is not a product of Scorsese's ineptness, or of marketeers who stuck his name on the marquee to draw in suckers.

Perhaps Dylan and his manager simply retained an ENORMOUS amount of creative control. Scorsese couldn't go anywere near controversy or the 'dark side' of Dylan. You can barely feel all the bad blood that surrounds Dylan from this filn. So he abandoned flash and narrative and just focused on stringing together some really high quality vintage clips.

Perhaps Scorsese is so much in awe of Dylan that he willingly relinquished authorial control in order to just play with all these great old clips.

Ann Althouse said...

To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

Ann Althouse said...

Lmeade asks: "Why did you tune into Part 1 halfway through?"

I had set the TiVo to record both episodes on Tuesday, when Episode 1 was reaired. The Monday episode conflicted with "Medium," which we record, chez Althouse. I was planning to watch Episode 1 on Monday, without relying on TiVo, but then the early evening was consumed in a death struggle with Garage Band as I spent hours trying to finish my podcast. When I finally got that done, I felt like watching TV and just started watching the Dylan show. I agree that it would have been odd to deliberately watch the show out of order.

But it was kind of interesting to get a faceful of lefty propaganda when I was hoping to see Bob. Did it skew my opinion unfairly? Or did skipping the PBS prep-work enhance my perceptions?

Hamsun56 said...

"To be a great artist is inherently right wing...where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that"

Well put Ann, or should I say Ayn?

For me, the interesting question is not whether or not Dylan is a great artist, but rather why are some people really moved by him while others are repulsed by him?

Obviously it is a matter of taste, but I don't think one's politics is a determinative factor here.

Could it be a genetic predisposition? That some people are inherently receptive to Dylan's frequency? I've read that the natural (non-drug induced) ability to experience synethesia is genetic. Sometimes when I listen to Dylan at his best, I can sit back, close my eyes and enjoy the cascade of images that his music and voice evokes.

Lonesome Payne said...

Aidan -

I agree with what you say politically, but...

Anyone who doesn't see the amazingness of Dylan's wordplay, starting with the first original he ever recorded ("Song to Woody")- well, I'll say this: you've never tried to write songs. Or paid much attention to the words.

The hardest part of song-writing is the words. Any fool (me included) can come up with a melody. Words? I think it's like looking at a great golf swing: well, that doesn't look so hard. I could do that!

Here's Song To Woody:

(One of his greatest gifts was the surpising way he would introduce a cliche or something familiar and turn it slightly askew. You'll notice a movie title in there.)

In American popular music word-writing specifically, the Holy Grail is simple poetic vernacular. Dylan evolved from being an immediate master of the nearly-straightforward to an original, a master of words that sound like they're straightfoward but aren't quite; and songs that sound like they're telling a story, but aren't quite, but then they are, maybe. Or something like that. I've probably listened to "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" a hundred times, and I still can't quite tell you what happens. I don''t care. I thihnk it's about the dangers of trying to have your cake and eat it too; the risks of gluttony maybe.

But the lines are so spectacular. "Lily started drinking hard and seein' her reflection in the knife..." That's not easy to come up with. That's hard. And then to fit dozens of roll-off-the-tongue couplets around it? That's super-hard. People have been trying to duplicate it ever since he came along.

I love words. That means I love Dylan. Someone who doesn't see the magic of Dylan's use of words - we're very different people. That's about all i can say.

Here's a latter day song. This is maybe 15 years into what's called his decline. And of coure you should hear him sing it.

Lonesome Payne said...

Sorry about the length of the previous post.

"The comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus..."

That kind of thing. Most guys never seem to get past "I got on the bus with a comic book." He's got - literally - a million of 'em.

Coco said...

Aidan - Kathleen Battle may be highly trained, she may be very skilled and she has a fantastic voice. Listening to her sing, I am often very moved and experience wonderful "music moments." I experience the same listening to Dylan - but for very different reasons. The same is true for JOhn Coltrane (and many others... I'm a jazz nerd). I have never thought it useful to categorize - on a personal appreciation level - "high art" and "low art" in the way that you seem to do. Indeed, I cannot imagine doing so would enhance my enjoyment of any of the above. Same is true as to the personal or political beliefs of the musicians/singers I enjoy.

BTW, just my 2 cents, "Masters of War", not right wing.

Ann Althouse said...

I've always been a sucker for: "It balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine: your brand-new, leopard skin pillbox hat!"

You try to write something that sounds just casually tossed off but is so cool and memorable.

BTW, I liked the scene at the beginning of the "Scorsese" film where Dylan is looking at a sign and then saying the words in different combinations.

Ann Althouse said...

Coco: I seem to make a big deal out of high vs. low art? What gives you that idea? My distinction is between good and bad. And I don't like political art, generally. And high art deserves special criticism when it gets pretentious. And I've certainly never relegated Dylan into a "low art" category.

JZ said...

I saw Dylan at an outdoor, summer night setting about five years ago. He shared the bill with Lyle Lovett, and I was struck by his modest, journeyman attitude. He was wearing a tight and rather loud suit and he was sweating a lot. What a contrast to the dark and angry young man in the PBS documentary. One thing he said at a press conference 30 or 40 years ago has held up: He said he just wanted to stay around, and he has managed to do it.

Lonesome Payne said...

One reason I liked the sign scene was because of how lame a few of the attempts were. And how sort of sheepish Bob looked while doing it. He was letting us into what was usually a very private process.

I do agree, by the way, that for us big fans, the narrative was old hat. The clips were great, though, and some of the interviews with others too. Al Kooper's reasoning for dropping out of the band before they went to Texas: "I didn't want to be his John Connolly, the guy next to him." Very funny.

coco: I just would like to believe that Bob, these days, might have a slightly less disingenuous idea about who the masters of war are than some others. Less incomplete, say.

me said...

A perfect way to expose the genious of Dylan is to listen to his son and the Wall Flowers. I got a free ticket this summer to see the Wall Flowers and even given Jakob the benefit of the doubt, he and his band sounded like a bunch of suburban kids that had a limitless credit card to buy musical equipment at the local guitar shop.

Compare that to Dylan and the Band. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson were the perfect charming, energetic and happy counterparts to the more serious Dylan.

Robert R. said...

Thinking about it today, I think the question about "what did Scorsese do?" can best be answered by considering what the film would be like if directed by someone else. I'll take Ken Burns as an example.

1. The film did not feature clips in an orderly fixed chronological order. Juxtaposing the '66 concert footage against the earlier footage raised a different question than what happened next, but how and why did it come to that. And, of course, it also allowed for a good bit of concert footage instead of a documentary narrative followed by a half hour of concert footage.

2. There was, thankfully, no godlike narrator telling us all what it meant. Scorsese almost always has given the audience the benefit of drawing their own conclusions.

3. While the movie obviously admires Dylan, it's not overly sentimental. Stories are told about him stealing records, he comes off looking bad in how he handled his relationship with Baez, he's described as an "opportunist" in one point, although the context wasn't that derogatory, etc.

4. Scorsese obviously isn't someone that gets upset by swearing. Yeah, it was bleeped for television, but it's there, not a second take without the swearing.

5. Scorsese included things that didn't necessarily contribute to the narrative but helped flesh out Dylan. Dylan playing with the words of the sign in England being an obvious example. Nothing to do with the narrative, but fun and illuminating. The "screen test" shots from Warhol is another example.

6. Scorsese isn't one to dwell on things too long. No footage brought the film to a standstill.

7. No academic talking heads. Yes, there were talking heads, but they were people that knew Dylan personally and related experiences and observations, not analysis.

Scorsese probably wasn't as hands on on this project as he is on others, but he was the man in charge.

Meade said...

Excellent review, Robert R!

paulfrommpls said...
... I just would like to believe that Bob, these days, might have a slightly less disingenuous idea about who the masters of war are than some others. Less incomplete, say.

At his first concert after Sept. 11, Bob's setlist looked like this:
(2001-10-05 Spokane, WA)
Wait For The Light To Shine
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Desolation Row
Searching For a Soldier's Grave
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
You're a Big Girl Now
Summer Days
Blind Willie McTell
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
Masters of War
Tomorrow is a Long Time
Watching the River Flow
Sugar Baby
Drifter's Escape
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Honest With Me
Like a Rolling Stone
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
All Along the Watchtower
Blowin' in the Wind

While it wasn't the first time he had covered the song, many felt that Searching For A Soldier's Grave had a special gravity that night.

Also, Masters Of War is not, as Dylan has explained, a song promoting pacifism. And it doesn't take very much imagination to hear the words as a sharp attack on all who profit from any military-industrial complex including Islamic jihadists:
"You that [buy] all the guns
You that [steal] the death planes
[And turn them into] big bombs
You that hide behind [beards]
You that hide behind [mosques]
I just want you to know
I can see through your [phony fatwas]"

Anonymous said...

PBS in NYC (CH. 13) Didn't bleep out any of the swearing.

me said...

Plus the show did not have a bunch of interviews from Dylan worshipers who weren't there in real time.

aidan maconachy said...

Okay, thanks for the responses. I've certainly learned a lot more about Dylan than I knew previously and I'm certainly not trying to ruin anyones appreciation of the man.

However, I still have an issue with the political implications written into pop culture. I think much of it is subversive of the right in very direct, but also in much more subtle and influential ways. It's a chameleon that I feel takes its color cues from the left, even though it may occasionally "appear" to be neutral.

The lines beneath from the "Masters of War" by Dylan don't refer to the Vietcong or Al Qaeda, or to any communist or fascist entity that might be opposing democracy. Okay it is dated ... but it still speaks to a mindset that I presonally disagree with. If he has changed his thinking in the interim, his lyrics cartainly don't reflect that ...

"You might say that I'm young. You might say I'm unlearned, but there's one thing I know, though I'm younger than you, even Jesus would never forgive what you do … And I hope that you die and your death'll come soon. I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon. And I'll watch while you're lowered down to your deathbed. And I'll stand o'er your grave 'til I'm sure that you're dead."

vbspurs said...

Well put Ann, or should I say Ayn?

Ahh, that was almost me last week.

I was this close to teasing Ann about her Ayn Randesque attitude to popular culture.

After my mama's boy remark, I thought I was skating too near thin ice though. :)

Ann says:

Coco: I seem to make a big deal out of high vs. low art?

Apart from the confusion this remark arose from, it's understandable that people are likening you to Ayn Rand.

Like her, you draw your audience (in her case, her acolytes) into your world of personal interests via your blog, and you are not DISMISSIVE, as so many academics are, of popular culture.

In her case, she watched and championed doing so, Charlie's Angels. In your case, you watch Six Feet Under.

The motivations may be different, but certainly the similarities are there to be culled.

Her thick Russian accent was annoying though. Nothing like the lilting tones on the podcasting.


aidan maconachy said...

I found this poem about Dylan kind of interesting, because it reflects a wholly different view of the man ...

Bobby Dylan

I strum guitar and act real fly,
my earnings are high, I can’t deny,
way higher than any low down G.I.
I don’t risk my hide in courageous deed,
don’t do nothin’ but strum and rhyme,
cos I’m an icon and they don’t bleed.

Call me guru, call me saint
I’m like the dalai lama without religion
a huckster cashing in on dreams,
just don’t ask this boy to get up and fight.

Don’t ask me to fight or bleed,
cos I hedge my bets and walk between,
take no gambles, act serene ...
cos when all this shit is said and done
this guru child has got to look clean,
if you know what I mean.

Call me guru, call me saint
I’m like the dalai lama without religion
a huckster cashing in on dreams,
just don’t ask this boy to get up and fight.

vbspurs said...

BTW, I liked the scene at the beginning of the "Scorsese" film where Dylan is looking at a sign and then saying the words in different combinations.

Cigarettes and Tobacco.
Tobacco and Cigarettes.
I want my dog picked up.
I'm seeking a bird bath.

Loved it, too.


vbspurs said...

Call me guru, call me saint
I’m like the dalai lama without religion a huckster cashing in on dreams, just don’t ask this boy to get up and fight.

In the context of the 60's/70's, one might be confused to think that he means not to "fight" in the war.

But perhaps, given his "guru", "Dalai Lama", "huckster cashing in on dreams" lines, maybe he's addressing himself to his fellow artists, saying that he's not going to participate in their fights with "the Establishment"...


aidan maconachy said...

Victoria - this poem wasn't written by Dylan - but by a Dylan detractor :)

Lonesome Payne said...

Aidan -

I've been thinking about this stuff too - not so much with regard to Dylan, but unavoidably with regard to a lot of pop culture, musicians especially, people I love like John Fogerty, who was without any doubt acting like an idiot last year.

So it's a worthy question you're posing.

A couple things about Masters of War: One, even though I've moved right, I don't necessarily find it to be completely ridiculous. There is something to be said about the dangers of the over-militarization of society: it's not an absurd worry.

It especially wasn't an absurd worry in the context of the Cold War, when mutual paranoia was how the world would come to an end. The Soviets weren't going to try to take us down, most people came to realize, with a nuclear strike anyway, unless they believed we were planning to. The absurdity of mutual paranoia was why a movie like Dr. Strangelove worked back then: the point of view was valid. (It's less valid now, sadly.)

The song, by the way, was written in 1963, raising a question as to how much he had Viet Nam in mind. Probably not much, I'd guess. I'd guess the Missile Crisis was more part of his thinking at the time. And like wiht a lot of Dylan, when you look at the lyrics, it becomes less clear who he's aiming at. Taken literally, the words apply just as much to the men behind desks in the Kremlin as they do to those in the US.

Meade said...

"this poem wasn't written by Dylan - but by a Dylan detractor"

...which makes sense - it isn't a very good poem.

Lonesome Payne said...

Aidan -

That poem is aiming at a target that didn't exist. If I'm reading it right, it seems to assume a rabid anti-Viet Nam type of singer. Dylan was never that.

Coco said...

Ann - you misread my post re: a "distinction between 'high art' and 'low art'. It was explicitly directed at Aidan. See:

"Aidan - Kathleen Battle may be highly trained,......I have never thought it useful to categorize - on a personal appreciation level - "high art" and "low art" in the way that you seem to do."

You clearly don't do that...hell, your post just above this discussion thread focuses on the marketing art for Maidenform bras ;)

aidan maconachy said...

Coco - I wasn't engaged in an excercise of comparing and contrasting "high" and "low" art - merely stating my personal preferences. I agree that it is a futile exercise, somewhat like comparing apples and oranges.

Guess my final thought is this, and it isn't meant as a mean spirited slam on all you Dylan enthusiasts. I truly believe the man is a complex and deeply conflicted soul. The born-again period, followed by a return to Judaism and the attendant internal conflicts that accompanied all this, reflect a man in turmoil. I think the Dylan of the media, is YOUR Dylan - and each person's received Dylan reflection is slightly different everyone elses.

The real Robert Zimmerman remains a bit of mystery - and not because there is some deep truth that escapes us all - just because the reality is more confused than I'm sure a lot of the posters in here care to acknowledge.

Great chat - enjoyed it!

Ann Althouse said...

Coco: Sorry! I need to put on my stronger reading glasses. I must just see the letter A and think it's all about me.

Steven said...

"To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that."

You made me spew my tea. You seriously need to passcode your computer so the freshmen can't post idiocy like this in your name.

Meade said...

I thought Ann's quote was very smart - nearly brilliant. But Steven made me laugh loud and long.

PatCA said...

What a director does and what everyone else does on a set is a constant source of gossip and legend. We know that writer Robert Towne's happy ending in Chinatown was changed by director Polanski--after quite a fight--to its darker, better ending. Lots of other movies yield gossip: the DP on Magnolia pretty much directed it because Anderson was in over his head, etc. It almost doesn't matter. A film is a collaborative art: somehow it gets done, by everybody.

I would think Scorsese storyboarded everthing, and the editor put his two cents in after that. Just my conjecture.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm finally three and a quarter hours into the four hour documentary and have enjoyed a lot of it. Mainly, that onslaught of folkies in the second hour made me feel bad. I loved the post-"Like a Rolling Stone" press conferences. And Al Kooper cracks me up.

Hamsun56 said...

"Well put Ann, or should I say Ayn?"

I didn't mean this as a tease. I thought Ann's comment was well put and it sounded like something Ayn Rand might have written.

When I first came across the Rightwing Bob site, I thought it was some type of joke, along the lines of the Tim Robbins film, "Bob Roberts". Although I don't define myself as right wing, I think there is merit in the premise of the site.

Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Tim Robbins never releaded the soundtrack to "Bob Roberts" due to his "fear of the songs being played out of context".

Ted said...

"To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that."

Conflating individualism with right-wing politics immediately leads to embarrassing rah-rah non sequiters like this. It's another link in a long chain of National Review-style "everyone I like is on my political side, whether they know it or not" arguments. Don't your musings imply something like this:

"To be a soldier is inherently left wing. A soldier may have some superficial, naive, righty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, a person who will put aside his personal preferences and goals to obey orders, even laying down his life for his fellow man, shows a powerful recognition of the greater good."


"To be a priest is inherently left wing. A priest may have some superficial, naive, righty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, a person who would sublimate his own will to dedicate his life to obedience to God and the service of his fellow man is one of the most powerful example of left-wing politics imaginable."

It's self-evident piffle, isn't it? Only an self-delighted hack would brush aside the actual, observed political leanings of his subjects as "superficial" and "naive". Only a fool would equate "obedience" with "left-wing politics." It's as embarrassing to read as it is to write.

Lonesome Payne said...

Hey Ted -

Since we're probably the only two left here, maybe you'll read this.

You actually provide, in your hypothetical statements, some good points. But you undermine and reveal yourself with phrases like "self-evident piffle" and "self-delighted hack" and "fool."

Raising a decent point is not the same as being clearly, obviously right. So in the end, you provide another example of the reasons so many of us who read this site and think somewhat like Ann can no longer consider ourselves part of the same left you (I presume) belong to:

You're addicted to your own clear moral and intellectual superiority, and your reasons for engaging seem largely to be limited to finding ways to buttress that flattering self-image.

Read Ann's post near the top today clarifying what she's saying, what she means. If you consider it not worth at least considering, a susbstantive idea even if you disagree, then I'd conclude you're not someone worth talking to. Which, multiplied several tens of millions of times, is why the left has essentially removed itself from rational debate.

Starting, to bring in another point, with the way the dominant anti-war zealots essentially removed themselves and the rest of the left from rational debate during the run-up to the war, making it more rather than less likely.

Lonesome Payne said...

To clarify Ted - what I'm saying is, that's what your language suggests to me about you. Maybe it's inaccurate, but if so you're not doing yourself any favors.

AlphaLiberal said...

Althouse says:
"To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that."
Hey, way to peddle in stereotypes! Your decription of conservative ideology is very flawed.

Do conservatives promote personal rsonsibility when...
...they oppose controls and on pollution and fines and penalties for polluters?
...when they support a President who never admits his mistakes and actually rewards incompetence (see: Prsidential Medal of Freedom)?

I could go on, but there's probably not much point.

Meade said...

Alpha Liberal said: "Hey, way to peddle in stereotypes! Your decription of conservative ideology is very flawed... I could go on, but there's probably not much point."

Alpha, she wasn't describing conservative ideology, she was describing characteristics of great artists. Suggested listening: Althouse podcast #7

StPat said...

Dylan said: When something's not right, it's wrong. (Blood on the Tracks- You're Gonna Make Me Miss You When You Go)
I like to think that's his proclamation of a political persuasion.

Meade said...

StPat: The only trouble with that logic is that other lines from other songs may confound your conclusion. For instance:

Ring them bells for all of us who are left,

I had so much left to do,

And then, just to confuse things, we get:

I left my mind behind

and finally:

I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me.

That Bobby D, not unlike Ann A - tough to pigeonhole.

StPat said...

IMeade, I was kidding! I don't really care what Dylan's politics are, but I sure do appreciate that he doesn't get up on soapboxes proclaiming them.

Meade said...


Yes, I knew you were kidding. I thought I could play off your riff of humor with some of the same. I share your appreciation for BD's eschewal of soapboxes.

Seriously, with her aversion to politics and her ability to tweak the self-satisfaction and dogmatism of diverse groups, don't you agree that AA just might be the '66 Dylan of this new blogging medium, albeit sober? She is clearly an inspired artist hitting her stride.