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Martin Scorsese
Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan. Songwriter. Rocker. Rebel. Legend. He is one of the most influential, inspirational and ground-breaking musicians of our time. Now, Academy Award® nominated director Martin Scorsese brings us the extraordinary story of Bob Dylan's journey from his roots in Minnesota, to his early days in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, to the his tumultuous ascent to pop stardom in 1966. Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and other share their thoughts and feelings about the young singer who would change popular music forever. With never-before-seen footage, exclusive interviews, and rare concert performances, it's the definitive portrait fans the world over have been anticipating for decades: the untold story of a living American legend.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 207 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 9/20/2005

Disc One
• Bob Dylan Performances
• Previews
Disc Two
• Bob Dylan Performances
• Full Length Bob Dylan Performances
• Guest Performances
• Unused 1965 Promotional Spot for “Positively 4th Street”

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 20, 2005)

My, that Bob Dylan sure has opened up over the last couple of years. After decades during which he essentially remained mum about himself and his music, Dylan’s turned into a regular Chatty Cathy – at least in a relative sense, given his prior restraint. 2004 saw the release of an autobiographical work, and 2005 brings us No Direction Home, an authorized documentary about the man.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Home presents a fairly traditional mix of new interviews and archival materials. Dylan himself is obviously the most prominent participant in the interviews, but we hear from many other relevant personalities. This roster includes high school classmates BJ Rolfzen and Dick Kangas, folk music scholar Paul Nelson, Columbia Records Head of A&R Mitch Miller, former Dylan girlfriend Suze Rotolo, Folklore Center owner Izzy Young, poet Allen Ginsberg, music published Artie Mogull, folk manager/concert promoter Harold Leventhal, artist Bobby Neuwirth, record producer Bob Johnston, filmmaker DA Pennebaker, and musicians Liam Clancy, Tony Glover, Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, John Cohen, Bruce Langhorne, Mark Spoelstra, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, Peter Yarrow, Al Kooper, and Mickey Jones.

The 112-minute Part One starts with a Dylan performance of “Like a Rolling Stone” shot in England during 1966. Additional music snippets from that tour pop up throughout Home along with comments from audience members and behind the scenes shots of Dylan and others.

Otherwise, Home follows a logical chronological progression. It starts with information about Dylan’s childhood and the atmosphere in his hometown of Hibbing Minnesota. It moves through his early interest in music and influences, initial stabs at being a musician and development in that area, his push toward folk and those influences, his name change, creating his own style and his heavy affection for Woody Guthrie, and his move to New York.

Once Dylan arrives in Greenwich Village, the program looks into that scene and how it affected him. We learn about his early performances, signing a recording contract and his first album, some specifics and reflections about songs, the impact of the anti-Communist blacklist and the Civil Rights movement, and Dylan’s relationship with Baez. Part One ends with Dylan’s performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and spotlights how big he’d become in that community.

The 95-minute Part Two opens with the 1963 March on Washington and Dylan’s attempts to deal with politics, especially in regard to how others thrust him into that spotlight. From there we see his move to electric music with 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home and the reactions this change inspired. This side of things includes his tumultuous appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival along with the aforementioned 1966 UK tour. In addition, we see elements related to recording “Like a Rolling Stone”. Home closes with notes about Dylan’s growing irritation at his treatment by outsiders along with his weariness; it eventually concludes with a note about his late 1966 motorcycle accident and the prolonged retirement from the live stage that followed.

As a documentary, Home is… pretty good. I must admit it doesn’t quite live up to expectations, though. Part of the problem comes from its pedigree. Not only did it proceed with Dylan’s cooperation – a previously unheard of prospect – but also it features Scorsese at the helm. That fact leads us to anticipate a truly outstanding program.

Unfortunately, Home isn’t that program. To be sure, it covers matters fairly well and offers an entertaining and informative three hours or so. I just can’t help but think it misses the mark in a broader way.

I take issue with the show’s focus, as it often seems less concerned with Dylan and more interested in the atmosphere of the era. Some of this is crucial, such as when we hear about the Greenwich Village scene of the late Fifties; most of us know little about that, so it’s very useful to set up the circumstances into which Dylan stepped.

Unfortunately, there’s just too much of this, and we hear too much about influences and other factors. Again, I think we need some of this material, but Home goes into overdrive. I understand that Scorsese wants to present a broad picture of what made Dylan who he was at the time; I just don’t feel we need to focus on those issues to the exclusion of so much else.

“So much else” means the meat of the matter: Dylan’s life and career. Don’t get me wrong – we do learn a fair amount about both issues. However, I think his music takes a backseat far too much of the time. Some of that may stem from Dylan’s continued reluctance to interpret or discuss his work, but I feel the show could have gotten around that.

We see evidence of this in the discussion of “Like a Rolling Stone”. For that seminal tune, we learn quite a bit about its genesis and creation. More information along these lines would be helpful and interesting.

I suspect part of the problem relates to Dylan’s lack of participation. His screentime decreases as the show progresses, probably because he doesn’t really want to talk about his music. He’s chatty when he goes into his childhood and early life but he becomes less open in later portions. Honestly, he seems to vanish into the mix of other participants as the program goes on, and it becomes easy to forget that Dylan’s there at all.

I also don’t like the way the show gives Dylan’s music so little expanded exposure. Contrast Home to the superior Beatles Anthology, for example, and you’ll find the latter presents lots of extended and complete musical performances. Those don’t exist in Home, a show that always cuts off or interrupts the tunes. Granted, I don’t think anyone involved wanted to turn Home into a 10-hour affair ala the Beatles project, and the DVD rectifies the incomplete song issue slightly with a few extended versions, but I still feel the program neglects Dylan’s music to too substantial degree. It’s hard to get a feel for what made his work so impressive with such brief snippets.

On the positive side, Home kicks into gear well when it gets to Electric Dylan. Perhaps that’s because it does focus more on music-related issues, or maybe it’s because the controversies remain bizarre and fascinating 40 years after the fact. We find many nice shots of Dylan’s 1966 UK tour, and the program goes very well in those moments.

Despite my griping, I actually think most of No Direction Home offers a pretty good look at the early part of Bob Dylan’s career. We get a decent overview of the man, the era, and the music. Nonetheless, it feels like a lost opportunity in some ways and it doesn’t match up to expectations.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus C-

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. With its mix of new interviews and archival footage, Home was acceptable but not any better.

As always, I viewed the old material and the new shots with different expectations. The archival stuff jumped all over the place. It could look pretty good at times, but we also got a lot of messy, ugly clips. I didn’t have any real problems with those, however, as I figured they were about as good as we could get. In any case, the flaws of the old bits didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the program. They blended just fine and didn’t cause distractions.

Perhaps that’s partly because the new shots never looked that great. The interviews were decent and not often any better. Sharpness was adequate, though some elements could become a bit fuzzy at times. Some specks popped up occasionally, and colors remained bland. Granted, there wasn’t much room for lively hues in these subdued interviews, but I still thought they were pretty flat. Blacks and shadows followed suit, as they seemed decent but unexceptional. No one watches a show like this for stellar visuals, but I thought that Home could have provided a somewhat stronger presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of No Direction Home fell into the same category. As with the visuals, it offered a lot of old material, particularly in regard to the music. Some of it came from professional recording sessions, but much of it emanated from old film clips or live performances. Those didn’t boast the same potential for quality, so as expected, they could be pretty shrill and thin. The professional stuff fared better, at least, and meant that the audio veered from weak to fairly solid throughout the show. As with the archival film, I had no real complaints, however; I thought the material held up as well as we could expect.

The new interview comments sounded just fine. I wasn’t wild about the way they looked, but they offered perfectly solid audio quality. No issues with edginess or intelligibility occurred, as they provided warm and natural tones.

Home may be a 5.1 track, but the mix didn’t do much to utilize the spectrum. Don’t regard that as a complaint, as I wouldn’t expect – or want – a show like this to go nuts with its soundfield. Much of the time it remained essentially monaural, though the music could open up to pretty good stereo on occasion. Again, the roots of the material restricted it, as so many of the tunes came from old film or TV shots that clearly didn’t boast multi-channel sources. The surrounds occasionally added a little dimensionality, but they didn’t have much to do here. This was an adequate soundtrack that I believe worked with the restrictions of the material about as well as it could.

When we shift to extras, DVD One offers Bob Dylan Performances. I thought this would provide some musical bits not found in the program. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Instead, “Performances” is just an alternate form of chapter search that takes you directly to any of the show’s tunes. We don’t get longer versions of them or anything, so this stands as a pretty bland supplement.

At the start of DVD One, we get ads for Mad Hot Ballroom, The John Wayne Collection, and MacGyver. These promos also appear in the disc’s Previews domain.

Over on DVD Two, we find more Bob Dylan Performances chapter selections plus some actual bonus materials. Full Length Bob Dylan Performances includes eight numbers. We get “Blowin’ In the Wind” from a March 1965 US TV special, “Girl of the North Country” from a February 1964 Canadian TV spot, “Man of Constant Sorrow” off of a March 1964 US TV show, and “Mr. Tambourine Man” from the July 1964 Newport Folk Festival. In addition, we find “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” in a private setting from May 1965 London, “I Can’t Leave Her Behind” in a similar environment from Glasgow during May 1966, “Like a Rolling Stone” from Newcastle in May 1966, and “One Too Many Mornings” from a May 1966 Liverpool concert.

When viewed together via the “Play All” option, the clips fill 32 minutes and two seconds. “North Country” is interesting as the TV special’s directors add an odd dramatic component to the show with some actors. “Stone” and “Mornings” are the most compelling of the bunch since they let us see Dylan and band at their contentious best. Overall, this is a good collection; I just wish we got more uncut music.

Guest Performances offers four songs done by folks other than Dylan. We get “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” by Mavis Staples, “Girl of the North Country” by Liam Clancy, “Love Is Just a Four Letter Word” by Joan Baez, and “Lord, Protect My Child” by Maria Muldaur. With “Play All” activated, these run a total of 10 minutes and 21 seconds. All are modern renditions, unlike the vintage Dylan stuff. None of them do much for me.

Finally, we get an Unused 1965 Promotional Spot for “Positively 4th Street”. This low-quality three-minute and 58-second clip starts with comments from Dylan fans before it launches into a live rendition of “Positively” itself. From there it cuts between more fan remarks and the tune itself. This is interesting to see for archival value, but it doesn’t offer much otherwise.

While I don’t think No Direction Home quite lives up to expectations, it offers a pretty decent look at its subject. I’d prefer more of a focus on Bob Dylan’s music and less on the era in which he worked, but we find a generally interesting and informative overview here. The DVD offers picture and sound that seem perfectly adequate, while it skimps on extras. A few tasty morsels emerge, but don’t expect much depth. I think Home is worth a look for those with an interest in Dylan, but don’t expect a stunning piece of work.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8421 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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