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D.A. Pennebaker
Bob Dylan
Writing Credits:
D.A. Pennebaker

In spring, 1965, Bob Dylan, 23, a pixyish troubador, spends three weeks in England. Pennebaker's camera follows him from airport to hall, from hotel room to public house, from conversation to concert.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/24/2015

• Audio Commentary with Director DA Pennebaker and Tour Manager Bob Neuwirth
• Additional Audio Performances
• “Subterranean Homesick Blues” Alternate Take
• “65 Revisited”
• “Dylan on Don’t Look Back” Audio Segment
• “Greil Marcus and DA Pennebaker” Conversation
• “DA Pennebaker: A Look Back”
• “DA Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth” Conversation
• “Snapshots from the Tour” Outtakes
• Interview with Musician Patti Smith
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Bob Dylan - Dont Look Back: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 12, 2015)

When I first saw it, the nature of 1967’s documentary Dont Look Back took me by surprise. The flick follows Bob Dylan spring 1965 tour of England, which I always thought was the one where his choice to “go electric” inspired outrage from his folkie fans.

Nope – that wouldn’t happen until the following spring. Dylan was about to begin his move toward rock with 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home but this tour’s UK shows kept him firmly unplugged.

Once I got past the disappointment that Back didn’t focus on the notorious 1966 trek, I found it to be quite interesting. An innovative piece, the film takes a “fly on the wall” viewpoint as it follows Dylan around England. We see him meet with the press, prepare backstage, hang out in hotels and generally deal with aspects of the tour. Some concert shots appear as well.

Unlike most musical documentaries, the least interesting portions of Back stem from its live performances. Part of the reason I feel that way is simply because I’m not a big fan of Dylan’s folk material. Heck, I’m not a huge Dylan partisan anyway; while I respect the heck out of his work, I’ve just never gotten into him in a major way. Nonetheless, what Dylan I enjoy comes from the electric stuff; folk just isn’t my bag.

The rest of the footage proves more compelling. While Back doesn’t provide a concise look at the Dylan tour in general, it offers an intriguing psychological portrait of the man.

At least to a certain degree. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that much of Dylan’s public personality and the way he presented himself at the time were a put-on, so this means it can be tough to tell what was real and what was self-fabrication.

In that way, Dylan creates an interesting contrast when compared to other Sixties rock notables. John Lennon was almost pathologically honest and incapable of phoniness, whereas Paul McCartney adopted the “genial showman” at an early stage and thereafter rarely revealed any internal fissures. Mick Jagger demonstrated cool aloofness tinged with irony and sarcasm.

Dylan went for a more aggressive form of arrogance. This comes out many ways in the film, as Dylan often seems imperious and obtuse. All at once, he appears both bemused and annoyed by his notoriety, and he behaves in an awfully condescending and smug way toward many of those he meets.

How true were these feelings? I’m sure there’s some validity to them, but it’s also obvious that Dylan play-acted much of his hostility.

This becomes most apparent during a fairly absurd chat with a representative from Time magazine. After Dylan thoroughly diminishes the publication’s quality and significance, he makes grandiose claims of his own talents and claims to be a better singer than opera legend Caruso.

Perhaps more revealing still is the movie’s through-line in which Dylan confronts the growing popularity of then-new folk sensation Donovan. Dylan mocks the singer through a variety of clips, but his jealousy becomes clear. Dylan wouldn’t admit he saw Donovan as a threat to his folk hegemony, but his attitude makes his feelings apparent.

When the two meet, Dylan’s actions prove this point. Donovan plays one of his tunes, a pleasant enough ditty that Dylan graciously applauds. However, he immediately takes the guitar to do one of his own songs, a gesture clearly intended to remind Donovan – and all those around them – who the true talent is. It’s a fascinating moment and a fine way to culminate the whole Donovan thread that weaves through Back.

The film comes with many other interesting snippets, and manager Albert Grossman makes the most of his time on camera. I particularly like a scene in which he and a tour promoter play two British TV networks against each other to reap as much money as possible. It’s not exactly a revelatory scene; the desire of folks like this to screw everyone possible for a buck isn’t news. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining to see.

Arguably the film’s most bizarre sequence comes when Dylan has an absurd meeting with the “High Sheriff’s Lady” in one English borough. This hoity-toity dame professes to be a fan of his work, and she brings along her sons “David, Stephen and Stephen”. Aren’t they characters in the British version of Newhart? It gets even more ridiculous when she invites them to stay at her estate next time they come to town.

What do we learn from Dont Look Back? That’s hard to say. Bob Dylan works so hard to keep us from seeing the real Zimmy that it can be difficult to discern the psychological truth of the matter.

However, those actions in and of themselves shed some light on his character and probably make the exploration more interesting than if he’d been more transparent. This makes Back a consistently involving and entertaining piece.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

Dont Look Back appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the nature of the source, this seemed like a quality transfer.

Sharpness was generally good and usually affected mainly by the movie’s “on the fly” photography. This meant focus occasionally suffered, but that wasn’t a considerable problem, as the movie usually stayed reasonably concise. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement presented no apparent concerns.

Source flaws were a non-factor – at least in terms of issues not from the original footage. The photographic conditions and film stock resulted in copious amounts of inevitable grain, and I saw some nagging gate hairs. Otherwise, the movie lacked extraneous specks, marks or defects.

Blacks looked pretty good. Though some shots came across as a bit inky, most of the blacks were quite deep and dense. Shadows varied, another factor that depended on the photographic conditions. Some low-light shots were fine, but others seemed a smidgen thick. I thought the visuals were satisfactory for a film of this one’s age and origins.

I don’t expect much from 50-year-old documentary audio, and the film’s LPCM monaural mix offered the limited sonics I anticipated. Actually, speech sounded better than I figured. The “on the fly” nature of the material could’ve led to a lot of rough, tough to comprehend dialogue, but instead, most of the speech seemed fairly natural and easy to understand.

Effects were a minor component, as they reflected background elements. These seemed reasonably concise. Music was passable though not especially good. Dynamics remained limited, but the songs and performances showed adequate reproduction. A product of its era, this was a competent soundtrack.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 DVD release? Audio showed improvements, mainly because the Blu-ray provided the original mono track, not the awkward surround remix. The latter didn’t work, so I’m happy to get the mono here.

Visuals showed clear improvements. The Blu-ray cleaned up the DVD’s source flaws and seemed sharper and more film-like. The Blu-ray couldn’t make the proverbial silk purse out of the source, but it’s hard to imagine the film would look better than it does here.

The 2015 Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we launch with an audio commentary from director DA Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. We start with a few notes about the genesis and creation of the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sequence and then dig into documentary-related issues.

The commentary looks at how the program came to be and problems with its distribution, behind the scenes elements of what we see on screen, technical aspects of the shoot, background of various participants, and other thoughts about the era and Dylan.

All of this creates a decent track but not an especially consuming one. Pennebaker and Neuwirth cover the basics reasonably well, and we get an okay feel for things. I just wish we got more insight into the various situations and the era. It seems like there should be a lot for us to learn about what happened during the tour but we don’t find out all that much. This ends up as an average commentary.

Next we find five Additional Audio Recordings. These audio recordings provide live versions of “To Ramona”, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. These sound surprisingly good and provide a nice glimpse of Dylan on stage at the time.

The film’s trailer essentially just consists of the movie’s opening scene: the proto-music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Speaking of which, we also get an alternate take (2:17) of that piece. It’s similar to the better-known version except it uses a different location and Dylan has a lot more trouble with the lyric cards. It’s awkward but fun to see.

Next comes Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. From 2006, this one-hour, five-minute and 29-second program collates outtakes from the original film sessions into a new documentary. We find lots more performance footage as well as more shots of Dylan in public and private.

Frankly, these clips aren’t tremendously interesting. Fans will dig the concert shots, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not wild about Dylan’s folk stuff, so they do little for me.

The other bits are intriguing mainly because they show a less barbed side of Dylan. He comes across as something of a jerk in Back, but here we see him in a nicer light. While I can’t say the material excited me, it’s still nice to check out additional clips from the 1965 tour.

Note that “Revisited” offers another alternate version of “Subterranean”. This one finds Dylan atop a roof on a somewhat windy day. This makes it tough for him to handle the lyric cards and leaves him with an irritated expression. I think annoyed-looking Dylan might be more fun.

While the 2007 DVD included a Pennebaker/Neuwirth commentary to accompany “65 Revisited”, that discussion doesn’t appear on the Blu-ray. I would guess this stems from rights issues, but its absence disappoints, as Pennebaker and Neuwirth offered a good chat about the 2006 documentary.

The remaining extras didn’t appear on the 2007 DVD. From 2000, Dylan on Dont Look Back offers a three-minute, 55-second audio segment with Bob Dylan. He provides some basic notes about his experiences related to the film. I’m happy we here from Bob himself, but he doesn’t deliver much insight.

With Greil Marcus and DA Pennebaker, we find a circa 2010 chat between the music journalist and the filmmaker. In this 17-minute, 49-second piece, Marcus and Pennebaker discuss Dylan, aspects of the film’s shoot and reflections on the movie. They uncover a good array of insights, especially when they discuss the Donovan sequence.

A few materials show up under DA Pennebaker: A Look Back. “It Starts With Music” brings us a new documentary that runs 29 minutes, five seconds and includes Pennebaker as well as cinematic collaborators Chris Hegedus, Jim Desmond and Nick Doob. The program examines Pennebaker’s career, with a mild emphasis on Dont Look Back. We learn a fair amount about Pennebaker’s work in this illuminating program.

Pennebaker’s first film appears as well. Daybreak Express (5:24) was shot in 1953 but not finished until 1957, and it shows a sort of music video. Express matches shots of NYC trains to a Duke Ellington song. It offers a creative and entertaining short.

A two-minute, 43-second introduction accompanies Daybreak Express. In this, Pennebaker lets us know a little about the film. He proves informative.

Another early Pennebaker film, Baby comes from 1954 and lasts five minutes, 59 seconds. This shows his then-two-year-old daughter during a day at the zoo. It’s little more than cute, though apparently the manner in which he shot it influenced Pennebaker’s subsequent approach to documentaries.

“A Look Back” finishes with 1964’s Lambert and Co., a documentary about jazz singer Dave Lambert. The 13-minute, 43-second film lets us watch as Lambert works with backup singers. Parts of it offer decent “behind the scenes” material, but honestly, much of it proves to be a snoozer. I might feel differently if I enjoyed the music, but I doubt it.

DA Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth presents another chat between the filmmaker and the tour manager. In this 33-minute, 58-second piece, they discuss Neuwirth’s relationship with Dylan, aspects of the 1965 tour, Pennebaker’s work and approach to the subject matter, and related elements. The comments about 1965 feel a little redundant, but I like the info about the 1966 tour and other topics.

With Snapshots from the Tour, we get 26 minutes and three seconds of outtakes. These appear in no particular order, as they simply provide little snapshots of Dylan’s English tour. A smattering of interesting moments occur, but most of them deserved to be left out of the film.

Next comes a 2015 interview with musician Patti Smith. In this 13-minute, 58-second chat, she talks about how she became interested in Dylan, her love of Dont Look Back and related topics, such as the first time she met Dylan in the 1970s. Smith’s comments start slowly but become pretty interesting along the way.

Finally, we get a 40-page booklet. It includes an essay from critic Robert Polito as well as photos and archival materials. The booklet proves to be better than average.

Dont Look Back maintains a reputation as one of the all-time great rock documentaries, a factor it probably deserves if just for its innovations. Above and beyond those elements, though, it manages to provide a fairly fascinating look at a legendary artist as a young man. The Blu-ray offers dated but mostly good picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. This turns into a quality rendition of an involving documentary.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of DONT LOOK BACK

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main