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Martin Scorsese
Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Sam Shepard
Writing Credits:

Martin Scorsese looks back at Bob Dylan's 1975-76 tour and a country ripe for reinvention.

Rated TV-MA.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Description
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 1/19/2021

• Interview with Director Martin Scorsese
• Interview with Editor David Tedeschi
• Interview with Author Larry “Ratso” Sloman
• 3 Additional Performances
• Restoration Demonstration
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Rolling Thunder Revue - A Bob Dylan Story: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 3, 2021)

After his legendary 1966 tour - his first after the folk star “went electric” – Bob Dylan stayed off the road for eight years, an eternity in that era’s music business. When Dylan returned in January 1974, he went out with the Band for a successful six-week arena tour.

Rather than sit on the sidelines for another extended period, Dylan hopped on tour again less than two years later for what he dubbed the “Rolling Thunder Revue”. This 57-date excursion split into fall 1975 and spring 1976 dates.

Unlike the arena-based 1974 tour, the “Revue” almost entirely eschewed large halls, and it demonstrated an unconventional geographic sensibility. Rather than play the whole US, the first leg of the “Revue” almost entirely stayed in New England, while the second concentrated on the US south.

This unusual tour becomes the focus on Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, a 2019 documentary from filmmaker Martin Scorsese. This becomes Scorsese’s second Dylan-focused program after 2005’s No Direction Home.

Whereas that piece spanned Dylan’s career, Story sticks mainly with the 1975-76 tour. In addition to ample concert footage, we find modern day interviews with musicians Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, David Mansfield, Ronnie Hawkins, Steven Soles, Ronee Blakley, and Roger McGuinn, filmmaker Stefan van Dorp, promoter Jim Gianopolus, author Larry “Ratso” Sloman, playwright Sam Shepard, actor Sharon Stone, poet Anne Waldman, politician Jack Tanner, and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. We also get circa 1970s remarks from poet Allen Ginsberg, musician Scarlet Rivera and medicine man Chief Rolling Thunder.

Notoriously evasive as an interview subject, Dylan’s mischievous attitude influences Scorsese’s choices. While Revue portrays itself as a straightforward documentary, Scorsese throws curveballs our way that complicate matters.

Here’s a clue for you all: some of the interview subjects mentioned above don’t exist, as Revue presents a few fictional characters. In addition, even some of the “real people” tell stories about actions they didn’t perform or events that didn’t occur.

This leaves Revue as a wholly unreliable take on the 1975-76 tour, and that seems to be the point. Scorsese appears to want to tell us of the manner in which history becomes myth and we can’t believe everything we see/hear.

Okay – but Scorsese’s rationale for this choice seems somewhat perplexing. Yeah, I get that this mix of fact and fantasy fits the Dylan MO, but face it: Scorsese isn’t Dylan.

As far I know, Scorsese’s prior documentaries – including No Direction Home - played it straight, so we go into Revue with the same understanding. I guess this becomes part of the prank, the fact that we expect to take everything from Scorsese at face value, but I think it comes with the opposite effect.

Because we know some of the material fibs, we then fail to trust virtually everything we hear. Again, perhaps this acts as Scorsese’s purpose, a desire to blur the line of fact and fantasy, but I admit I don’t really grasp the goal.

All of this means the viewer can essentially never regard the interviews as anything more than performance art. Do we get actually truth among the lies? Sure, but because we never know the difference, it makes sense to simply toss out everything.

This mischievous plan feels like a mistake to me also because it detracts from the real value in Revue: the live footage. I’ve only seen Dylan three times, and the first didn’t happen until a decade after the 1976 tour.

Dylan was decent to good onstage at the two 1980s shows I saw. Indeed, though his 1988 dates suffer from a terrible reputation among fans, I got him on a good night, and he put on fairly thrilling performance.

I didn’t go to another Dylan concert until 2004, and by then, he’d become Mumbly Bob. With terrible vocals and evident disinterest in the show, this concert turned into a total drag and made me swear off additional Dylan gigs, a vow I’ve kept.

Given that most recent memory of Dylan as a terrible live performer, it feels nearly revelatory to see the aggressive, invested Bob of 1975-76. He seems wholly engaged in the songs and shows real involvement.

As such, the movie’s live sequences offer pure gold for fans. With an interesting backing band – including former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson – the performance bits become easily the most compelling aspect of Revue.

And we get quite a few of them, though we rarely find complete songs. Still, the quality of the live material carries us through the nonsense.

It’s just too bad that we need to wade through the semi-mockumentary aspects of Revue to get to the concert footage. As an act of provocation from a famous filmmaker, the program seems intriguing, but the end result lacks the necessary purpose.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Rolling Thunder Revue appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 and o 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Footage shot in 1975/1976 came with the 1.33:1 dimensions, while modern day interviews used 1.78:1

A mix of archival material and recent elements, the image came with inevitable variations. For the most part, the newer clips showed solid quality, as they displayed fairly good sharpness.

Some discrepancies occurred, as a few clips felt a little on the soft side. Still, the modern interviews mostly brought appropriate accuracy, and the also lacked jaggies, moiré effects or source defects.

Definition also came across mostly well for the archival clips, though more inconsistency came with these tidbits. Still, they seemed largely accurate, though it depended on the nature of the old footage.

The shots of Dylan on stage demonstrated nice clarity most of the time, though lighting conditions impacted sharpness. Material not explicitly filmed for the 1970s Dylan project seemed uglier, but that was inevitable.

The 1970s Dylan clips lacked print flaws, and they showed a natural layer of grain. Plenty of defects plowed into the stuff not shot from the tour, but again, that was unavoidable.

Overall, colors looked pretty good. Both old and new material opted for a natural palette, and while the 1970s footage could lean a little brown, the hues still worked fine.

Blacks seemed fairly deep and dense, while shadows offered decent clarity. Given that most of the program came from worn film shot in the mid-1970s, this became a satisfying presentation.

As for the project’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it remained subdued most of the time and only came to life in any real way during live performances. Some of those seemed restrained, but they usually used the five channels in a broad, engaging manner.

This meant the forward channels dominated and brought a good sense of stereo imaging. The surrounds also contributed nice reinforcement and some unique instrumentation as well.

Audio quality also satisfied, with dialogue that came across as fairly natural and concise. Some of the circa 1970s footage could feel reedy, but the speech usually worked fine.

Effects became a minor component, as they only stemmed from the 1970s material and they remained in the background. This meant they lacked presence, but they didn’t need to do much given the project’s focus.

Of course, music became the most important facet of the mix, and these elements offered good breadth and impact. The vocals felt crisp and lively, while the instrumentation seemed warm and rich. All of this added up to a perfectly satisfying track for a program of this sort.

As we go to extras, a 2019 Interview with Director Martin Scorsese runs 16 minutes, 59 seconds. He discusses his approach to the project. This allows Scorsese to explain some of his unconventional choices, even if he doesn’t make a terribly compelling argument for his take on the material.

A 2020 Interview with Editor David Tedeschi lasts 11 minutes, 39 seconds and delivers his thoughts about cinematic influences and the editorial choices made for Revue. This becomes a fairly informative chat.

Next comes a 2020 Interview with Author Larry “Ratso” Sloman that fills 18 minutes, 46 seconds. The writer of On the Road With Bob Dylan - a book about the 1975-76 tour – Sloman covers his history with Dylan and memories of the “Revue”. We get a useful discussion here.

Three Additional Performances appear: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (12/4/75, Montreal Forum), “Romance in Durango” (11/20/75, Harvard Square Theatre), and “Tangled Up In Blue” (11/21/75, Boston Music Hall). These take up a total of 13 minutes, 48 seconds.

On one hand, I appreciate the inclusion of three more complete songs. However, the presentation leaves something to be desired, as the visuals come with a variety of defects and the audio only provides lossy Dolby stereo. Still, the clips add value to the package.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc concludes with a two-minute, 36-second Restoration Demonstration. Scorsese tells us about the work needed to bring the footage up to snuff. This feels self-serving but it offers a few worthwhile details.

The set also offers a booklet. It offers credits, photos, an essay from novelist Dana Spiotta, and text from Revue participants Sa Shepard, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. Expect an uncommonly strong booklet.

As a collection of live performances, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story delights. As a documentary rife with fictionalized material, though, it becomes an overly clever mix of fact and fantasy. The Blu-ray brings generally good picture and audio as well as a decent mix of bonus materials. Expect an inconsistent “documentary”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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