Saturday, November 12, 2005

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (4.5/5)

"All my songs are protest songs."
-Bob Dylan

"I've never written a political song. Songs can't save the world."
-Bob Dylan

Throughout Martin Scorsese's two-hundred minute documentary we get to see Bob Dylan squirm under a barage of journalist questions. Several times he just asks the questions right back at them, and at one point starts snapping pictures of the photographers themselves. Dylan is portrayed as a chameleon, refusing to be a spokesman for the left or put on a pedestal by the folk movement. The closer Scorsese gets to his subject the blurrier he becomes.

The story of Dylan is framed nicely within the turbulent times his music came about. When pictures of Dylan's sleepy Midwest town is flashed across the screen it's apparent that the straight laced conformity was indicative of the nation as a whole.

No sooner are we are introduced to the restless kid who enrolled in college but never went to any classes, then we see him skirt to New York where he is rumoured to have followed in the footsteps of the old bluesmen, and sells his soul to the devil. Shortly after, his mediocre playing is transformed into a confident musician.

During the times Dylan is in New York you can almost feel the pressure that was building in America. This is also the time where he probably gained a political consciousness that he would later accept or deny depending on how he felt, or maybe on who was asking.

The majority of the concert footage contains booing and heckling from the crowd. I had always heard about the controversy concerning Dylan "plugging in," but it is something else to actually witness it.

This documentary has a long running time, but it never dragged. I was constanty intrigued, and always engaged. No Direction Home is richly layered and deals with a lot more than just Bob Dylan -- I'm sure I don't understand half of it. Scorsese show us a scene of Andy Warhol and Dylan right before he cuts to some British fans deriding the new Dylan music as "pop." As is the case with any Scorsese movie, it is about a lot more than what's up on the screen. In some way No Direction Home is about the changing art of the sixties. It was this decade that modernism really started giving way to the post-modern movement.

The relation between Dylan and his music also intrigued me. The Beats and many of these folk musicians viewed art as a truthful unveiling. Much of this film will have you wondering if Dylan's music concealed as much as it revealed. The idea of an artistic Truth is chipped away at, and instead Dylan lets little truths slip out of his art. There is an act that's going on whenever Dylan writes a song, and especially when he performs a song. At times it is almost as if he is creating a personality out of bits of images and sounds he finds in the world, and then puts them together to create something fresh.

The film manages to deal with multiple themes without losing sight of its subject. In fact, it is precisely because the film deals with so much that it didn't lose my interest despite its length. Scorsese has shown us one of America's great artist, and in the process proves that he also belongs in that category.


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