XIXAX Film Forum

The Director's Chair => Martin Scorsese => Topic started by: eward on January 11, 2019, 07:44:27 AM

Title: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on January 11, 2019, 07:44:27 AM
Bob Dylan, Martin Scorsese Reunite for ‘Rolling Thunder’ Film, Coming to Netflix in 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix describes Scorsese's look at Dylan and famous friends in '75 as part documentary, part concert movie and part "fever dream."

For years, rumors have circulated among Bob Dylan fans that a documentary about his legendary, star-studded “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour of 1975-76 was in the works, and occasional whispers had a name attached: Martin Scorsese. Now, the cat can come officially out of the bag. Variety has exclusively learned that Netflix plans to release the movie in 2019, with the director’s name actually in the title: “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.”

The tightly-under-wraps project is said not to be quite as much of a straightforward documentary as Scorsese’s previous Dylan film, 2005’s “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,” which zeroed in on Dylan’s crucial 1965-66 “going electric” period. “There’s a reason the word ‘story’ appears in the title,” said a source, hinting that the director may be playing with the form more in this particular film.

Upon further inquiry, Netflix provided Variety with a thumbnail description of the film that ups the tantalizing ante. “’Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese’ captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream, ‘Rolling Thunder’ is a one of a kind experience, from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.”

No release date has been set. When Variety asked about a rumor that the film might appear as early as this spring, a source countered that, saying that even the announcement of a premiere date remains “months away.”

One of the few details Netflix did confirm about the movie is that Dylan himself was interviewed for it, which doesn’t necessarily go without saying, since the artist rarely allows himself to be interviewed off-camera, let alone on. A participant in the Rolling Thunder Revue tour confirmed to Variety that many of the alumni of that period have done interviews for the movie over the past few years, with most if not all of them conducted by Dylan’s longtime manager, Jeff Rosen, as was the case with “No Direction Home.”

The list of names we might see in the film, whether in present-day interviews or just vintage footage, is a fairly mind-boggling one. The Rolling Thunder Revue was conceived as a sort of loose caravan that involved the presence of poets and writers as well as past and future music luminaries. And all of them were presumably caught on film, as Dylan prepared his infamous “Renaldo and Clara” movie as well as a TV special. Among the tour participants: Joan Baez (reuniting with Dylan for duets after a long gap), band leader Bob Neuwirth, Roger McGuinn, T Bone Burnett, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ronee Blakley, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Allen Ginsberg and Sam Shepard (who published a book about the tour in 1977). Others showing up for isolated shows or appearing in the studio included Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Patti Smith, Bette Midler, Kinky Friedman, Dennis Hopper and Phil Ochs.

It’s not known whether all these faces will appear in the movie, especially as Netflix’s description indicates the film will focus on the fall 1975 tour, when the loose ensemble was said to be at its ramshackle best, and not necessarily the spring 1976 follow-up, when different guests came aboard and reviews indicated the collective had lost some of its charm.

The “fever dream” aspect of Netflix’s thumbnail description may lead buffs to wonder if Scorsese will be borrowing a few cues from Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” film, which received only a brief release in 1978 and has never been released on home video, aside from bootlegs. Although the initial four-hour cut was hardly well received, the fictional vignettes that were shot for the project continue to be a source of fascination for Dylan buffs. (Dylan’s then-wife, Sara, played Clara, while Blakley played “Mrs. Dylan,” in one example of the vintage film’s mischief.) The more theatrical nature of the 1975 shows was heightened by Dylan appearing in whiteface in many of them.

If it does turn out to be an autumn release, that would dovetail nicely with unconfirmed expectations that the film will be coupled with a boxed set of unreleased material that would be part of the “Bootleg Series” that Sony Music puts out a new installment of every fall. At one point, both these things seemed destined for last fall. In 2017, without mentioning Scorsese’s involvement, a source in the Dylan camp told Rolling Stone that a Rolling Thunder documentary and accompanying “Bootleg Series” set might come out in the fall of 2018, possibly incorporating material from Dylan’s adjacent “Blood on the Tracks” period. That rough plan obviously changed, as the “Blood” recordings got their own dedicated box this past November, leaving the door wide open for “Thunder” to get its multi-disc due in 2019. But Netflix and Sony have not confirmed plans for a soundtrack or accompanying set.

Assuming that a “Rolling Thunder” boxed set will appear, it will be the first time the “Bootleg Series” has returned to an era already covered in Dylan’s archival collections. The third release in the series, back in 2002, was “Bob Dylan Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue,” but that was a mere two-disc set structured pretty much like a straight live album, and was thought of by fans as a lost opportunity, before the “Bootlegs” began expanding to six or eight discs at a clip. There are few other eras in Dylan’s vault that buffs are as eager to see opened up, and the fact that most or all of these gigs were professionally filmed as well as recorded has whet appetites for more than 40 years.

“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” is not the only thing on the titular filmmaker’s plate in 2019, of course: He’s also been working with Netflix on “The Irishman,” a project that was announced four and a half years ago. That may be nothing compared to how long the Dylan film has been in the works, with some saying they were interviewed for the project as long ago as the late 2000s. “Irishman” is the one with a budget reported to be $140 million or more, but don’t tell Dylan fans that “Rolling Thunder” won’t also be epic.

Fuck The Irishman, this is the Scorsese film I've been waiting years for! If this were to coincide, say, with a Criterion Blu-ray box-set release of Renaldo & Clara, I'd be a very happy boy indeed.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Nails9 on January 11, 2019, 09:27:34 PM
Hell Yes.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on April 25, 2019, 04:40:48 PM
Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan Tour Doc Gets Netflix Release Date

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is out in June

In January, Netflix announced that the legendary Martin Scorsese would direct a new concert documentary following Bob Dylan’s iconic Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Now, a release date has been set. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese will hit the streaming platform as well as select theaters on June 12.

Described as “part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream,” the film will feature on-camera interviews with Dylan and footage of the 1975-1976 tour that saw the singer-songwriter perform with artists such as Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, Mick Ronson, and more. Check out the new poster below.

The performances found in the Netflix doc will also be compiled on a new box set, Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings. The 14xCD collection will gather 148 tracks from the five Dylan sets that were professionally recorded. It arrives June 7 as a companion piece to the film.

Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 03, 2019, 11:56:40 AM
Aaaand I'm weeping.

Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Drenk on June 03, 2019, 12:01:51 PM
You know what? Life isn't real. I was thinking about this movie a few hours ago in the train, while listening to Dylan for the first time in months.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 03, 2019, 12:19:08 PM
Already got my tickets for next Wednesday at Lincoln Center. Gonna don a cowboy hat and some white face paint.

...while listening to Dylan for the first time in months.

What, pray tell, did you listen to?
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Drenk on June 03, 2019, 12:33:13 PM
There's something absolutely fascinating about his face at this period.

Oh. Some Blonde on Blonde.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Robyn on June 03, 2019, 12:59:25 PM
Looks sooo good!!
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 03, 2019, 01:26:37 PM
I can't stop watching it!
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 11, 2019, 01:36:19 PM
News from the (old) front, via Larry "Ratso" Sloman himself on Rolling Thunder (POTENTIAL SPOILERS I DUNNO):

Bob Dylan, jailhouse phone calls and a movie from hell: My life with the Rolling Thunder Revue


After graduating from Queens College in 1969, I went to graduate school in Madison, Wis., where I received a master’s in deviance and criminology. The degree came in handy when I returned to New York and started doing music journalism for Rolling Stone.

One day in October of 1974, I was walking down Fifth Avenue when I saw a guy sitting behind the wheel of his parked car. The guy was Bob Dylan. I had recently spied some papers on a publicist’s desk at Columbia Records so I knew that he was in town working on a secret project that would become “Blood on the Tracks.” I asked him if I could preview the album for Rolling Stone. “How do you know about the album?” he said accusingly. His distaste for the press was well known. I immediately switched the subject and told him that Phil Ochs was crashing on my couch. He warmed up and authorized the article.

Nine months later, there were Dylan sightings in Manhattan. He was recording a new album and was spearheading impromptu jams at the Other End cafe in the Village. One night after a meal in Chinatown, I convinced Roger McGuinn, one of the founders of the Byrds and a friend of Bob’s, to look into the rumor with me. When we reached the back of the bar, there in a corner, Dylan was surrounded by friends like the folk singer David Blue, theater director Jacques Levy and assorted others. Dylan jumped up and lunged to hug McGuinn, spilling most of the drinks on the table. “Hey Roger, we’re gonna go out on tour. Wanna come with us?” When I reintroduced myself to Bob, he said, “I heard you’re doing an article on Hurricane Carter,” the boxer who had been convicted of murder in New Jersey by an all-white jury. We talked a bit, then he leaned in. “You wanna go on the road with us and cover the tour?” Uh, yeah.

That was the impromptu way the Rolling Thunder tour coalesced. Dylan assembled the musicians from the band that played on the “Desire” sessions, but then Bob’s old running mate Bob Neuwirth added some wild cards to the mix, like guitarist Mick Ronson. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie’s pal and a mentor of sorts to Bob, came along. Ronee Blakley, who would soon earn an Oscar nomination for her work in Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” signed on. And co-headlining the tour was Dylan’s old flame Joan Baez.

In some ways, the Revue was a reaction to Bob’s 1974 tour with The Band, when he had toured for the first time since 1966, playing hockey arenas across the country. “I got kind of held up on that tour,” Dylan told me. “I wasn’t really in control of the situation. We were just shuffled around from airport to limo to hotel lobby to hockey rinks.” Now, with his old summer camp pal Louie Kemp managing the tour, Bob could enjoy himself on the road again. And he didn’t have to worry about airports and limos. We'd be traveling by bus with Dylan, driving a small camper, in the lead.

Early on, the tour was playing intimate venues, giving it an old-timey feel. A show would open with songs by Neuwirth, Ramblin’ Jack, Ronee, McGuinn and Ronson. Then Dylan closed the first set. After an intermission, two voices could be heard from behind a curtain. That curtain slowly lifted, revealing the spectacle of Baez and Dylan reunited, a scene that elicited actual gasps from the audience.

But this was not your typical gypsy musical caravan. For one, foremost in Dylan’s mind was the plight of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer imprisoned in New Jersey. Dylan and Jacques Levy had written a powerful song about this injustice called “Hurricane” that Bob played every night. And thanks to the fabled ad man George Lois, who spearheaded a celebrity campaign to free Rubin, the boxer had been moved to a minimum-security prison, where Lois procured him not one but two telephone lines. We called Rubin almost nightly before the show would start; half the time he’d put us on hold while he finished up another call.

Adding to the import of the tour was the presence of Allen Ginsberg, the counterculture’s poet laureate. Allen wrote a daily poem for the tour newsletter, bounded up onstage to play finger cymbals during the finale and provided running commentary for anyone in earshot. I spent many a night with Allen in the stands, listening to the music and hearing sage comments like, “Dylan has the authority of an emperor of sound!” Or, after one particularly blistering set, “It’s the vision of the ’60s becoming real. I’ve been crying.”

As if there wasn’t already enough variety, there was an open spot left in every city so that any musical colleague who came to that show could perform. Joni Mitchell showed up in New Haven, Conn., and stayed for the rest of the tour. “I stayed up three days in a row at one point, wandering around the room, and there was music going and I’d still be dancing,” Joni told me. “I didn’t want to miss anything!”

Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson joined a show, along with Gordon Lightfoot, who performed in his native Toronto. Then there was Leonard Cohen. Bob was anxious to have Leonard come to the Montreal show, so he had me call him from the hotel pay phone while he tugged on my arm. When I picked up Leonard the night of the show and we entered the backstage area, he was immediately greeted by Joni, Neuwirth, Ronee and then Dylan. “Hey Leonard, you gonna sing?” I pleaded. “Let it be known that I alone disdained the obvious support,” Leonard declared. “I’m going to sit out there and watch.”

One visitor who didn’t just sit and watch was Bob’s mom, Beatty Zimmerman. Energetic, brash, silver-haired and outgoing, she joined the tour in Maine and made an impact from hour one. She dispensed Jewish-mother wisdom and chicken soup, as well as song reviews (after hearing “Hurricane” she put her fist to her heart and said, “It leaves you weak”). A few nights later, Beatty joined her son onstage and danced during the finale.

Meanwhile, I was having troubles on the road. Louie Kemp had imposed some harsh rules on me. I was now “press” so I couldn’t stay at the same hotel as the group, half of whom I was friends with. I had to make appointments to talk to the performers.

If that wasn’t enough, I was getting heat from my editors at Rolling Stone. A few weeks into the tour, the Revue started playing larger venues and the ticket price increased by a dollar. My editor wanted to know where all the money was going. “But that’s not what the kids want to read,” I pleaded. “How do you know?” he countered. “I know kids,” I exploded over the phone.

Nevertheless, I woke Dylan up in his hotel room. “They want you to respond to the fact that the first 11 shows grossed $600,000,” I said.

“So what does Elton John charge?” Dylan shot back. “It don’t concern me what those people say. They are the establishment.”

Baez echoed the same sentiment. “Tell them to shove it up their asses,” she fumed. “It makes no difference if we played to 15 people or 15,000.”

As if putting on some of the most incendiary performances of his life every night wasn’t enough, Dylan, along with cinematographer Howard Alk and three small film crews, was shooting footage in every town on the tour for a film that was to become “Renaldo and Clara.” Sam Shepard had been hired to write a script, but Dylan invariably tossed his prepared dialogue and went for improvised scenes. One day Ginsberg came up with the idea of Dylan as an alchemist rediscovering America, so they shot a scene with Dylan in a diner trying to transmute crackers, ketchup, pie, coffee and milk into gold.

When Bob’s wife Sara joined the tour in Niagara, and later when actors Harry Dean Stanton and Helena Kallianiotes came aboard, the emphasis of the film shifted from a documentary format to a more mythic presentation. Dylan relied on intuition to map out the scenes of the film, much to the chagrin of Shepard. Everyone else happily went with the flow. But Dylan didn’t take every idea to heart. Mel Howard, the film’s producer, conveyed an idea from Ginsberg.

“Ginsberg wants to do a scene with you, Bob, acting out one of his fantasies,” Mel said. “He wants to shoot this scene where you and he are waking up together in the morning, this real tender aftermath scene.”

Dylan just rolled his eyes.

That footage was never shot, but hundreds of hours were. We finished the concerts in Montreal and then drove back to New York, stopping on the way to play for Rubin and his jail mates and then finishing up with a sold-out benefit for him at Madison Square Garden. For most of the musicians, it was the highlight of their careers.

In fact, no one wanted to leave New York after the tour ended. So we went to a succession of parties, including a boring affair at Norman Mailer’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights. But mostly, we hung around the Other End, where it all began. Bob, McGuinn and I were sitting at a table in the back, the same one where Bob had invited us on the tour a few months earlier. Everyone was pretty blitzed, so we were content to listen to the jukebox. Until three Byrds songs came on in succession.

“Hey McGuinn, you didn’t do your best songs on this tour, man,” Dylan snarled.

But then, as if by magic, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” came on the jukebox. I looked over at Dylan, and he had pulled his hat over his face and downed another shot.

“Hey, schmuck,” I said. “Listen to this. You didn’t do your best songs on this tour either.”

Dylan wound up releasing “Renaldo and Clara” to very mixed reviews in January 1978. Clocking in at almost four hours long, it was savaged by the critics; one Village Voice reviewer started his review with “I wish Bob Dylan died…” It lasted for a few weeks in the theaters and has rarely been screened since then.

But now we have “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” Using footage from “Renaldo and Clara,” plus tour outtakes and contemporary interviews, Scorsese has hit on the major themes of the tour: the spirit of America just before the bicentennial; the attempt to redress injustice toward Rubin Carter; the conflict between the musical and the mercantile; and the ability of artists to subsume their egos for a greater collective good. For fans of tour documentaries, this is the genre’s apotheosis. It’s Renaldo and Clara without Renaldo and Clara.

The Rolling Thunder Revue did one more leg, but Dylan has never stopped touring. He hinted at that to me after the Madison Square Garden show. “Why tour? I think that’s what I have to do. It’s in my blood. I’ll be available. People can see me in person all over the world. This tour ain’t gonna stop.”

There’s a scroll at the end of the Scorsese film that documents every date that Dylan has played on his Never Ending tour since Rolling Thunder. Suffice it to say, it’s a very, very long scroll.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Robyn on June 12, 2019, 12:40:36 AM
It's 7 in the morning and it's still not here! Where is it??

edit: midnight pacific time apparently
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 12, 2019, 08:26:30 AM
I'm seeing it tonight at 9:15. I already know too much.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: Drenk on June 12, 2019, 05:20:25 PM

I haven't watched the movie yet, but I've seen the world "prank" used twice to describe one of the narrative devices of the documentary. I'll see if it's a prank, but mixing "lies" (or what I'd call fiction) with "true" (what's real, man, and can you film and edit it?) footage seems to me like a fantastic way to understand the medium and Dylan's career. The past is a reconstruction...

Let's see.

EDIT: It begins with a french pun. Re-Vue for Revue. Re Vue in French means Seen Again, it's also used for something that has been edited or reinterpreted.
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 12, 2019, 11:13:11 PM
Jesus this was incredible. My heart is pounding. Not what I expected yet everything I wanted it to be, and more. Very different in a lot of ways than No Direction Home. Dylan is so funny here. The performances will comb your hair and give you a sunburn.

Best movie of the year.

Spoiler: ShowHide
When Michael Murphy showed up as his character from Altman’s Tanner ‘88, I about lost it. Brilliant move. The other fabricated elements are also ingenious in their own slippery little ways. Such moves might seem baffling to non-hardcores, but to me it felt like the ONLY way to go. It reframes the making of Renaldo & Clara in a very moving way, too, all the while never even directly acknowledging that aspect of the tour!!
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: wilberfan on June 13, 2019, 12:36:49 AM
I'm watching the film now, but don't really know what to do with the following information.

Spoiler: ShowHide
Debunking the Four Big Lies at the Heart of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ (https://www.indiewire.com/2019/06/rolling-thunder-revue-secrets-scorsese-dylan-netflix-1202149452/)
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 16, 2019, 11:29:39 PM
Has no one else come under this masterpiece's spell? Am I the only Dylan freak round these parts?

Something is happening here but you don't know what it is...
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: wilberfan on June 17, 2019, 12:32:35 AM
Has no one else come under this masterpiece's spell? Am I the only Dylan freak round these parts?

You may be. 

I watched about 2/3rds of this before bailing.  It was deeply nostalgic to see this footage (I was in college at the time), but I can't say I was ever a big fan of Dylan.  I respect his word craft and acknowledge his massive cultural influence, but can't honestly say he was ever one of my favorite musicians. (I'm glancing at my vinyl collection.  I may not own a single album of his.)   

Honestly, the two things in this doc that really made me take notice was the reminder of what a great voice Joan Baez had (has?) and--this really surprised me--what a wonderful bass player he had on stage with him.   (I'd never heard of the guy.  His bass lines impressed the hell out of me.) 

I'll also admit that learning that some of the doc wasn't "real" (see the link I posted, above) pretty much ruined the experience for me.   Call me Old School, but, as with this reviewer (https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rolling-thunder-revue-a-bob-dylan-story-by-martin-scorsese-2019), I didn't see the point, and felt it only took away from the experience--rather than adding anything positive. 
Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on June 17, 2019, 12:58:17 PM
I really loved the fabrications and think they add a great deal - two key factors of the first leg of that tour that are (to me) conspicuously absent: the making of Renaldo & Clara - a long buried 4 hour hybrid art-film improv experiment/concert doc/tour diary directed by Dylan (playing "Renaldo") and shot by Howard Alk, which Sam Shepard was brought on to write, though the script was most often abandoned mid-take - and the presence of Sara Dylan (the titular Clara). Most of the backstage footage is culled from that film, so what we're seeing is everybody playing loose versions of themselves.

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Scorsese's approach here almost compliments/completes Dylan's ill-received cinematic vision 40 years later.

"If somebody's wearing a mask, he's gonna tell you the truth. If he's not wearing a mask, it's highly unlikely," says Dylan, pointedly not wearing a mask. Dylan's always been a trickster.

I've watched this 4 times so far - twice on the big screen, twice at home. I can't get enough of it.

With Dylan, I find, most people are either all in or just not interested. I am thoroughly in, have been since discovering him properly at the age of 18 (largely due to having viewed No Direction Home).

Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on September 18, 2019, 05:32:12 PM
My Father Was Left Out of Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan Movie

My late father's extensive contributions were left on the cutting room floor of 'Rolling Thunder Revue.' So I went looking for his legacy.

By Julian Levy

This summer, Netflix released The Rolling Thunder Revue: A Film by Martin Scorsese, a major production critics described as, variously, "simply brilliant," "a little too much of a good (indulgent) thing," and "snippety and jumpy." The mixed reactions weren't simply a reaction to, but a function of what the film is… or is not. Marketed as "part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream," the work uses documentary's visual language to ostensibly tell the story of Dylan's legendary 1975 tour—a traveling hootenanny featuring a revolving cast of performers and the staging and pacing of musical theater—but takes substantial liberties with the facts, interweaving fictional characters and events with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews featuring the real people who made it happen. It's an intriguing choice that in-and-of-itself raises important questions about cultural hagiography, the debt artists owe to the truth, and how they can pay it.

But for me, the most bewildering feature of the film lies in what was left on the cutting room floor: Dylan's collaboration with Jacques Levy, a relatively obscure New York avant-garde theater director whose contributions to Rolling Thunder, both as a songwriter and one of the tour's central creative architects, represent one of the most substantial partnerships in Dylan's career. Like so many articles about Rolling Thunder and the 1976 album Desire that boil Levy's contributions down to a sentence or outright ignore him, Scorcese's film functions as idol-worship, portraying Dylan as a lone genius while dismissing a more nuanced, more interesting truth: Without Jacques Levy, neither Desire nor Rolling Thunder as we know it would have existed.

Were I a casual viewer, this all might have escaped me, but I have a personal stake: Levy was my father.

In 1975, my father, a 39-year-old psychologist turned theater director and lyricist, bumped into Dylan on the street. The encounter sparked a writing partnership that would yield seven of the nine songs on Dylan's 1976 record Desire, as well as a track that wound up on 1991's The Bootleg Series. When Dylan decided to take the new material on the road, he asked my father to direct what would become the Rolling Thunder Revue, an oft-imitated, widely-influential marriage of theater and rock, home to some of Dylan's greatest live performances.

My father died in 2004, when I was 15. I never got the chance to do much more than love him. I came to know him later, through the stories I heard second or third-hand—remembrances from family, friends, and collaborators who'd been in the room when he was producing his life's work. When my mother got the call that Martin Scorsese was directing a Rolling Thunder documentary and that we'd been invited to see it at his private screening room, my family took it as a tacit acknowledgment of my father's importance to the story, and for my part, I viewed it as an opportunity to get to know my father a little more.

Five minutes into the film and there he was as I never saw him, walking around in the background at Rolling Thunder rehearsals, talking to people at parties. In glimpses I saw the man with whom my mother fell in love—vital, in his element, with a (mostly) full head of hair. At the 13-minute mark, the fictional documentarian Stefan von Dorp mentions that Jacques gave him permission to film. Any minute now, I thought, they'll get to him. But even though the songs he co-created serve as the film's centerpieces, and despite lengthy musing on the tour's theatricality, my father vanishes from the story before it truly begins. If I hadn't already known the man standing beside Dylan at the head of the tour's crew photo shown 20 minutes into the film, I'd have assumed he was a producer or a manager of some kind. In an analogue to my life, he's barely introduced before he's gone.

Despite the filmmakers' insistence that it's simply an interpretation of the truth, presenting a version of history that never was and isn't meant to be definitive, because the film bears Scorsese's name, is so cleverly edited, never effectively tips its hand, and features the famously reticent Dylan, most viewers won't know the difference. So what follows, culled together from as many primary sources as I could get my hands on and interviews with some key players from the tour, is neither a biography nor a comprehensive chronicle of events, but simply the story of Rolling Thunder that the film declined to tell.

It's also the story of my family.

One early summer evening, as he walked out of his apartment and lit a cigarette, my father spied a familiar face walking down on the street. "Bob!" he called. Dylan turned around. It turned out they were heading to the same bar, so they decided to go together.

By 1975, Levy was pushing 40, living in a loft above a bakery on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village. He'd grown up poor in New York City, sharing a bedroom with his immigrant grandmother until leaving the city to study for his doctorate at Michigan State. In his mid-30s, when he'd called to tell his mother that he was ditching his career as a clinical psychologist to pursue musical theater, she'd cried.

In the ‘60s, he'd garnered some success Off-Broadway with his experimental, Brechtian style, winning an Obie Award for directing an early Sam Shepard play. In 1969, he'd made a splash directing the musical Oh! Calcutta!, a controversial erotic revue featuring sketches from Shepard, Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Leonard Melfi, Edna O'Brien, and Jules Feiffer; the play eventually moved up to Broadway, becoming one of its longest running shows. But by mid-‘75, he was between projects.

Dylan and my father weren't total strangers. They had met previously in the late '60s while my father collaborated with Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn on a musical reimagining of Ibsen's Peer Gynt set in the American West. The show never made it to the stage, but McGuinn plucked a handful of songs from the soundtrack and recorded them with The Byrds; one track, "Chestnut Mare," wound up charting. "Your dad improved my work," McGuinn, still a family friend, told me. "The quality of songs I'd been working on with him were better than what I'd been doing myself or with other people. He did inside rhymes and things I never bothered to do. He was brilliant."

As is customary in musical theater, the songs McGuinn and my father had written together had plots and characters. This appealed to Dylan. Just a few months out from Blood on the Tracks, a quintessentially Dylanesque folk-rock record with a distinctly personal and confessional tone, he was searching for a next step. As my father recalled in a 2004 interview with Prism Film Archive, "[Dylan] had heard the lyrics I'd written for McGuinn... I think he liked the idea that I could tell a story." According to my father, the two drank and talked. "Then he said these magic words: ‘I'd like you to write some stuff for me.'"

My father demurred. He was a lyricist—not a musician—and Dylan was, well, Dylan.

"We wound up just over at his place, sitting around," Dylan said in On the Road with Bob Dylan, Larry "Ratso" Sloman's chronicle of his adventures traveling with Rolling Thunder as a young reporter with Rolling Stone. "I had a few songs. I certainly wasn't thinking of making a record album. I had bits and pieces of some songs I was working on and I played them for [Levy] on the piano and asked him if they meant anything to him." The two songs were "One More Cup of Coffee" and a rough version of "Sara." Picking up where Dylan left off, the two got to work that night. "He took it someplace else, and then I took it someplace else," Dylan said. "Then he went further, then I went further, and it wound up that we had ["Isis,"] which was out there, you know." (Via a representative, Dylan declined to participate in this story.)

The chemistry was obvious. "It was more than a working relationship," Ratso Sloman told me. "Jacques and Bob had a real friendship." After a few weeks of writing, my father suggested the two get away from the city and bear down on the work. Dylan offered the use of his house in the Hamptons. The two spent about a month together in seclusion—Dylan strumming his guitar, my father punching the typewriter. "It was nothing prepared," Levy recalls in the Prism Film Archive interview. Dylan, he says, would "play a couple of chords and I might come up with a couple of words or a phrase… We just kept going back and forth that way... sometimes he would throw something and say 'how about this?' I would take it or not take it. That was an interesting moment, the first time I said, 'no, I don't think that's right.' But you have to have that otherwise you can't collaborate."

Sometime in the middle of this writing marathon, Dylan decided to record the new material. There was more than enough for an album, so he announced his intentions to his label and made arrangements. Desire was born.

Unlike Dylan's more typically mysterious releases, there is a story behind the composition of nearly every song on Desire. According to my father in On the Road with Bob Dylan, "Romance in Durango" began with an image printed on a postcard. He once told me that a game to see who could rhyme the most words with "Mozambique" yielded the eponymous song. "Joey" was an elegy for my father's friend, mobster Joey Gallo, whom he met through Marta and Jerry Orbach.

Near the beginning of their collaboration, according to my father, Dylan had mentioned that he wanted to write a song about the incarcerated boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, whom they both believed to be innocent. Dylan was out of practice writing protest songs, so he turned to my father for help. "[Dylan] was just filled with all these feelings about Hurricane," my father told Sloman in On the Road with Bob Dylan. "He couldn't make the first step... I think the first step was putting the song in a total storytelling mode."

According to Rob Stoner, bassist on Desire and Rolling Thunder's bandleader, my father's lyrical influence on Dylan's songwriting was obvious. "Juxtapose your pop's work with any of the songs Bob wrote on his own," he told me. "They're much more like a script. He had a kind of wise-ass Broadway thing. You could see another lyricist was afoot here, and Bob totally utilized the resource he had." On even a cursory inspection of "Hurricane," one can see that the song's opening lyrics read precisely like stage directions:

Pistol shots ring out in a barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, ‘My God they've killed them all!'

By the time Dylan and my father returned to the city in late July, Dylan's friend Bobby Neuwirth, a songwriter and musician, had started performing nightly at The Other End (previously and currently known as The Bitter End) in Greenwich Village. It was a sort of impromptu residency, with Neuwirth getting up on stage to workshop material and inviting friends to join him. "It started off as a lark," Neuwirth told me. "Mainly, it was beatin' the heat with cold ones." As more artists showed up to play and hang out—including Ramblin' Jack Elliot, T Bone Burnett, and, yes, Dylan—the idea of bringing a rag-tag hootenanny of folk and rock singers and songwriters on the road began to solidify. "We thought it'd be fun if we got in a station wagon and went places and did a show and got back in the station wagon and drove away," Neuwirth said. "In other words, Rolling Thunder wasn't planned as it materialized."

Burnett remembers the day when his journey to playing guitar on Rolling Thunder began. "I was playing these shows with Neuwirth at The Other End," he said. "After the first or second night Bob and Jacques came in and after the show we went over to [Larry] Poon's loft." A pack of rockers including Patti Smith and David Bowie's longtime guitarist Mick Ronson joined. Once at the loft, Dylan pulled out the typed songs he and my father had just spent a month writing and sat them on the piano, a Steinway baby grand. "He played the whole Desire album, he played us all those songs. That's one night that, no matter how far I sink into dementia, I won't forget."

Burnett remembers being initially surprised by Dylan's new writing partner. "I thought it was extraordinary that Bob had collaborated like that, and collaborated with a theater director too... Then I realized as I listened to these songs: they were all little dramas, they had, in fact, written small three to five minute plays... Dylan that night was probably the loudest singer I ever heard... he was wailing those songs. That's the night I met Jacques."

It was around this time that Dylan met a young visual artist, Claudia Carr. She had been waitressing at Caffe Dante on MacDougal Street, and Dylan was a regular. She hadn't initially recognized him. The two became friends, with Dylan eventually introducing her to his painting teacher, Norman Raeben, who would become Carr's mentor.

A short time later, a group of friends and collaborators assembled at The Other End for drinks. After a long day of writing with Dylan, my father looked across the table and recognized Carr as the woman who'd previously rebuffed his advances at the grocery store. On July 29, 1975, his 40th birthday, he invited her to a recording session for "Oh, Sister," Desire's haunting, plaintive ballad. The two soon became inseparable.

During the Desire sessions, a menagerie of personnel circled in and out of Columbia's Studio E as Dylan and producer Don Devito searched for the right sound. My father was on site, making adjustments to the lyrics and coaching the performances. "When I arrived for the Desire recording sessions," said Stoner, the sessions' bassist, "[Jacques] was scribbling away on a long yellow legal pad, as lyricists do. After every take, they would kind of have a conference, and Jacques would replace the yellow pad on Bob's music stand with new words. Bob could've said ‘Good enough' any time and sent Jacques away, but he considered every little revision to be an improvement. Those dudes trusted each other on a very high creative level."

Recordings in the tin, it was time to take the new material on the road.

Dylan, my father would later say, confided to him that he was sick of jets and limos. He envisioned a version of Neuwirth's ad hoc performances at The Other End, less of a rock tour and more of a traveling carnival. It would be never-ending, and performers would join in or drop out on a whim as the troupe loaded into venues surreptitiously, played a barn-burner of a show, and escaped into the night.

Louie Kemp, a childhood friend of Dylan's who helped produce the tour, said that promoters were wary of the concept's viability: after all, by this point in his career, Dylan was packing stadiums. "Bob had run the idea by a few promoters; they pooh-poohed it," said Kemp. "[They said] it wasn't becoming to a star of his stature to do little venues. But Bob told me what his idea was and asked me if I'd produce it for him, so I did. I handled logistics. The performances themselves were Bob's responsibility, and he enlisted your dad for that."

Rolling Thunder was to be no ordinary tour, and, envisioning himself an act in the circus rather than its ringleader, Dylan turned to my father, a professional with years of experience choreographing stage productions and helping different personalities coalesce into a coherent product. Dylan asked him to direct the tour. He accepted.

The tour's acts included everyone from musicians to famous poets to actors. Artists like bassist Rob Stoner, drummer Howie Wyeth, singer Ronee Blakely, and violinist Scarlet Rivera were recruited from the Desire recording sessions. Others like McGuinn, Burnett, Joan Baez, Neuwirth, Kinky Friedman, Ramblin' Jack Eliot, David Mansfield, guitarist Steven Soles, and poet Allen Ginsberg were either friends, transplanted from Neuwirth's shows, or had previously worked with Dylan on other projects.

Bringing his experience in theater to bear, my father required that every performer in Rolling Thunder rehearse his or her part, including entrances, exits, and introductions of each successive act. This sort of staging was the province of stage drama—not rock—and many of the performers loathed it. "He was making us work like a director makes actors work," said Burnett. According to my mother, my father arrived at rehearsals one morning and found the entire crew sporting t-shirts with the word "BORING" printed on the front and "I HATE JACQUES LEVY FAN CLUB" on the back. My mother still has one of those shirts, and treasures it to this day.

"His role was unique," Stoner said of my father. "He wasn't a musician; he was the director. Throughout the rehearsals, he was revising the tunes and thinking of the staging. It wasn't like one band going out there doing their thing; it was like 13 acts—a lot of moving parts! These guys were used to doing their acts. But this wasn't a nightclub, this was a big theatrical presentation for all of posterity. It seems off the cuff, but this thing is really organized. When something had to be done, Jacques was right there. His experience as a clinical psychologist was obvious. He knew exactly how to get the most out of people."

That Dylan and my father respected one another was no secret. "If Jacques hadn't been a meaningful contributor, Bob wouldn't have had him there and kept him there," said Louis Kemp. "That he was there for the duration confirms that." Beyond his early folk years, Dylan's music necessitated collaborators; a band who could bring his musical vision to fruition. But this was the first time in his career that he'd worked so extensively with a lyrical contributor. That required trust and friendship. "It turned out we had rather similar senses of humor," said Levy in his Prism Film Archive interview. "Certain lines I'd write, he'd just laugh. He'd have to stop himself from laughing as he was singing them." And it helped that my father was focused on the work; Dylan famously abhors hangers-on, fanatics, and those who try to call him to account. "I was never a fan with a capital 'F'" said Levy. "[Dylan] loved the idea that I didn't know some of his stuff, that I wasn't one of these people that knew every detail of his life." I can only speculate, but I'm sure that genuine connections and honest opinions were few and far between for Dylan, and when he found them, he embraced them. "One of the reasons that Bob and I are friends is that I always told Bob the truth," said Bobby Neuwirth. "Your dad was the same way. He never blew smoke up Bob's ass."

My father's central task on Rolling Thunder was to create order from chaos, impose the image of a rollicking cavalcade on a tightly rehearsed production and take the audience on a journey. Every act on the tour was invited to sing one song, Burnett remembers. "Jacques had to figure out which song that person could sing, then write it into the story, because what we were doing—what he was doing, was telling a story. With different voices and different songs, and different songwriters...It's very much like a movie score," Burnett said. "Anyone can put a piece of music to a film and have them intersect in some way that's interesting. But if that's what you're doing you just have a series of pieces of music with pieces of film... a score is the overarching arc that goes from beginning to end and tells the same story the movie is telling...And that's what Jacques was doing. He was taking this raw material, and he wrote the show. He wrote and directed the show."

When the tour kicked off on October 30, 1976, my father was on the bus alongside the musicians. He invited Carr along too. It was a motley scene. "[The bus] was like a pirate ship," McGuinn recalls. "Somebody gave me a skull and crossbones flag, and your dad said, ‘Why don't we write a pirate song?' So we did," McGuinn said, laughing. "I played it for Dylan and he said, ‘Oh, that's an old good one.'" The shanty, "Jolly Roger," would later appear on McGuinn's solo album, Cardiff Rose.

During shows, my father would stand backstage, watching the audience for their reactions. Afterwards, he'd give notes and make adjustments. At 40, he was one of the oldest people on the tour. "He was a professional," said Sloman. "Almost professorial. I don't remember him partying or hanging out, really. He was more focused on getting the job done." Constructing the show from start to finish wasn't a one-time effort; my father had to balance the brand new Desire material with fan favorites Dylan hadn't played in a generation, and adjust the show on the fly when other performers like Joni Mitchell and actor Dennis Hopper jumped in mid-stream. According to Neuwirth, "Jacques made sense of it all. I don't know how he did it. He had some brilliant ideas. Like Bob and Joan singing duets like they had back when."

In his chronicle of the tour, The Rolling Thunder Logbook, Sam Shepard seemed especially taken by a dramatic piece of staging that reunited Dylan with his most-famous singing partner, Joan Baez, but kept them behind a curtain.

[After intermission, the] audience are back stomping on their metal folding chairs. Suddenly the houselights dim. Audience begin to roar, but then something happens. From out of the roar acoustic guitars are heard. Where are they coming from? Then two voices come into it. A male and a female. But where's it coming from? The audience begin to listen and quiet down, but they can't see the source of this sound. They strain toward the stage but the curtain's still down. Now the voices take on characters. It's definitely Dylan, but who's the chick? […] Visions of Martin Luther King, Washington, D.C., 1964, Kennedy, Birmingham, a flood of images belonging to a whole decade come riding on the words of ‘Blowing in the Wind.' The curtain slowly rises and there they are revealed. Baez and Dylan, like the right and left hand of an American epic."

After the tour, my father and Dylan stayed friends. My mother tells me there was some floating talk about the old partners reconvening to write again, but it never happened. My father continued his work in theater, directing 1983's Doonesbury the Musical, and writing lyrics for 1988's Fame: The Musical, among other credits amounting to a lifetime in the theater. In 1979, he and Claudia Carr married. In 1980, they had their first kid—my sister, Maya. I came seven years later.

Since Rolling Thunder, Dylan has never really come off the road. Whenever he came to town, my family would be invited backstage. He was always affable and warm. When I was six, my family visited him in his dressing room. He got down on one knee and asked me if I'd like to have one of his harmonicas. "No thanks," I said. "I have one at home." I couldn't figure out why everyone burst into hysterical laughter. My mom still tells that story.

The last time my father saw Dylan, it was backstage after a show. Dylan was wearing a rumpled pink suit and a cowboy hat. My father approached him. They shook hands. "What the fuck is this mustache?" my father said to Dylan. "You look like Vincent Price." Dylan smiled, glad to see time hadn't changed his old friend.

The day after my father died, my mom received a telegram from Dylan: "[Jacques] was one of my favorite people," it read. "The work that we did together will always stay on my mind. We had an understanding between us that was rare."

He may not be around, but the mark my father left on pop culture means that I still encounter him in my day to day life. Songs from Desire are mainstays in restaurants and bars, on movie and TV soundtracks. The White Stripes, Tom Petty, and Andrew Bird have covered his songs. I've caught references to his work in Mad Men and The Simpsons. Rolling Thunder's melding of pop music and theater—curated shows with guest performers and dramatic interludes—has become de rigeur in today's musical and concert landscape.

"It was impossible to include Jacques because he wasn't alive to be interviewed when we started doing interviews," a spokesperson for the production of The Rolling Thunder Revue told VICE when asked about Jacques Levy's omission from the film. "The truth can be siphoned through many different filters depending on the story you're trying to tell. That's why the movie is called a Bob Dylan story. It's very much telling a specific kind of story."

Of course, nobody champions my father's influence more than those who worked with him. "What I learned from him, I repeated [many times] on A Black and White Night with Roy Orbison, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Down from the Mountain shows… all these things are versions of Rolling Thunder in a way," said T Bone Burnett, now a successful recording artist, Grammy winning producer, and musical impresario in his own right. "I said on the radio the other day that I've been doing Bob's act for 30 years, but really, I've been doing your dad's act…[On the Rolling Thunder Revue] he wrote music, he wrote the script, and he directed it. That's what he did. That's the truth of what happened."

Most of the time, when I think of my father, I think of my gentle, patient, goofy pop—wearing short-shorts and Hawaiian T-shirts on family vacations, sleeping on the couch with our cat in the crook of his arm, putting his hand on my shoulder when a girl had broken my heart. But to really know my father now is to know his work; his sense of humor, insight, wit, and emotional depth are alive in his words. When I miss him or feel lost, that's where I look.

Oh Sister, when I come to knock on your door
Don't turn away, you'll create sorrow
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore
You may not see me tomorrow.

It may not be his voice singing, but in those lyrics I hear my father begging not to be spurned or taken for granted, for me to recognize what's before me and cherish it while I can. But that song doesn't belong solely to me, and that may be what I'm proudest of: I share my father with the innumerable people whose lives have been touched by his work, even if they never heard his name. Jacques could hear the crowd roar from his place backstage, but here he is now, standing for the curtain call he deserves.

Title: Re: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Post by: eward on October 15, 2019, 03:29:51 PM
I know I'm kinda talkin to myself here, but fuck it, this is another lovely read grasping at the cubist complexities of Bob, the inimitable magic of The Rolling Thunder Revue, and the trickster spirit behind Scorsese's first masterpiece of 2019, "tedious facts be damned."

By Ethan Warren

- When I Paint My Masterpiece

Once upon a time, there was a young filmmaker named Stefan van Dorp.

In the fall of 1975, having made a name for himself in the low-budget avant-garde scene, van Dorp decided to travel with the Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan’s first major tour in nearly a decade, documenting the endeavor while capturing the “dissolution of society” in pre-bicentennial America. As he says now 40 years later, he was searching for “the land of pet rocks and super Slurpees from 7/11. L’Amerique insolite.” [1]

Looking back today, Bob Dylan recalls thinking van Dorp’s project was “a splendid idea,” but he also recalls the young auteur becoming egomaniacal and paranoid over the course of that fall’s six-week tour of New England and Canada. For his part, van Dorp looks back on the Rolling Thunder journey as “a group of highly motivated and ambitious people [becoming] the most extreme versions of themselves…I know that’s what happened to me.”

Stefan van Dorp never managed to complete his experimental film about the Rolling Thunder Revue. But in the process, he captured some of the most electrifying concert scenes, and some of the strangest backstage footage, ever recorded. And if he’d ever existed, maybe he would have lived happily ever after.

- Mr. Tambourine Man

In many ways, Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue, [2] Martin Scorsese’s 2019 Netflix documentary that looks back on 1975 in the life of one Bob Dylan, is not just a companion piece but a direct sequel to Scorsese’s 2005 PBS documentary, No Direction Home.

First airing as an installment in the American Masters series, No Direction Home surveys the first two and a half decades of Dylan’s life. In this span of time, he discovers rockabilly music as a young boy in rural Minnesota (then going by the name Robert Zimmerman), explodes onto the Greenwich Village folk scene with stirring reinterpretations of the great American songbook, masters the art of political anthems and so earns the uneasy but ubiquitous “voice of a generation” title, revolutionizes the public conception of songwriting by centralizing the composer’s authorial voice over the performer’s, alienates the folk scene that had championed him when he appears with an electric rock band, becomes dependent on amphetamines to keep up the breakneck pace of his stratospheric career, travels to Europe to be the subject of jeers from young audiences and vicious interrogation from old guard journalists, and finally returns to America only to suffer a catastrophic motorcycle crash, retiring from public life at just 25 years old.

One of the final scenes of this kaleidoscopic documentary finds Dylan hunched in a Stockholm dressing room in 1966. “I’m gonna get me a new Bob Dylan,” he mutters to his small entourage. “Get me a new Bob Dylan and use him.” He presses his long and slender fingers into his face, prodding open his drooping eyelids. “We’ll see how long he lasts.”

As we learn in the closing title cards of No Direction Home, Bob Dylan would seldom appear publicly across the next 10 years. That motorcycle crash—an event, like so many in his past, that’s still clouded by mystery over half a century later—signals the end of the life story of one Bob Dylan.

Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue is the life story of the Bob Dylan who mysteriously reemerged onto the Greenwich Village scene of 1975. Or, at least, it’s a story of that Bob Dylan.

- It Ain’t Me Babe

It’s no secret why the 1975 leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue—a tour that saw Dylan headline a bill he shared with such contemporaries as Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott—has exerted a gravitational force of fascination for over four decades, nor why a documentary is merited for a tour that lasted only a few weeks and crossed only a few states. The Rolling Thunder Revue was less a rock tour than a traveling art installation in which some of the best and brightest stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s (not just musicians, but poets and dramatists and assorted hangers-on) drifted in and out of small communities across northeast America, appearing in theaters for concerts as unusual as they were electrifying before blowing away again with the audience left stunned—or, as in the case of one young woman spotted in archival footage, experiencing emotional intensity so profound it can only be processed by paroxysmal sobs. Alluring and amusing as that story may be, though, the primary justification for the existence of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue is the gift at its heart: Bob Dylan’s concert footage, finally remastered and restored in all of its blistering glory.

Much of this footage has long been available on YouTube and other purveyors of the free and low-res, but those clips have been cloudy and muted, seemingly bootlegged off bootlegs of bootlegs. Prior to the spring of 2019, you certainly had the option of watching a wild-eyed Bob Dylan stalk across a small stage, his face painted white, a wide-brimmed hat on his head and scarves around his neck, of watching him contort his scarecrow frame around the microphone as he furiously howled his ballads of stallions, chili peppers, and the valley below. But the footage you could watch was faded and blurry, the accompanying audio tinny and warped.

The restorations packaged within Scorsese’s film are a magic trick that looks more like a miracle. A team of technicians has rescued canonical rock and roll performances, a gift not just for Dylan completists, but for any fan of cinematic rock. The camera was no incidental element of the Rolling Thunder experience, but rather Dylan’s primary audience; with these performances only one part of a vast and sprawling project meant to encompass the American spirit of ‘75, Dylan’s work here lives more on his face than in his voice, his expression shifting from grotesque snarl to bug-eyed buffoonery and back on the thinnest of dimes. When Dylan exited the stage a decade earlier, his persona was cold and reserved, letting the music speak for itself while he emoted as little as possible; in the footage presented as Stefan van Dorp’s,  this one-time voice of a generation is so engaged it’s unnerving.

“Dylan looks like a caged animal stalking the stage,” writes Rolling Stone’s Larry Sloman in his 1978 tour diary, On the Road with Bob Dylan. “It’s not Dylan up there, it’s a fucking rock ’n’ roll Jolson.” In his own account of the tour published in 1977 as Rolling Thunder Logbook, playwright and caravanner Sam Shepard describes Dylan as “The Master Arsonist,” with a force of personality equal to his musical prowess—“just watch this transformation of energy which he carries.”

Among Dylan’s great talents has always been his ability to make his work appear casual, even offhand—all the better to deflect and deny any critical accusation of being a message-oriented artist. But such projections tend to belie a great deal of thought and care, a fact ably demonstrated by the Rolling Thunder Revue. While assuming an air of comfortable informality, the stage show was in fact co-conceived by veteran theater artist Jacques Levy, Dylan’s artistic soulmate of the era and the only significant writing partner of his career. In addition to co-composing much of the new material introduced with Rolling Thunder— “Hurricane,” “Isis,” and “Romance in Durango,” to name a few—Levy helped design the show as a proto-art-rock traveling installation 

And so alongside their onstage roles as ebullient spiritual searchers, Dylan and his coterie followed a similar ethos of wondering and wandering as they wound their way across the northeast United States—travelogue interludes include the caravan’s pilgrimage to Plymouth Rock and Joan Baez visiting with an elderly luddite acquaintance of Arlo Guthrie’s, as well as an on-the-street encounter between an unseen Stefan van Dorp and a street vendor hawking bicentennial merchandise in the shadow of the Twin Towers.

“Rolling Thunder is searching for something,” Shepard ruminates in his Logbook. “Trying to locate ourselves.” Sloman quotes Allen Ginsberg (the tour’s resident poetic guru, occasional performer, and frequent baggage handler) characterizing the project as “the vision of the ‘60s becoming real,” an event that “gives other people permission to reveal their hearts,” while Sloman himself describes the tour as “the fucking musical event of the last 200 years,” in which “spiritual green berets…came into your town for your daughters and left with your minds.”

In Scorsese’s documentary, Dylan now argues his own perspective on what Rolling Thunder was about: nothing. “It’s just something that happened,” he declares, dismissing any theorizing on a deeper aesthetic mission.

If Bob Dylan has taught us anything across the past half-century, however, it’s that you can’t take what he says at face value. Nor can you blindly trust anything presented in Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue, a package shrouded in thick layers of deception and misdirection. But, as chimeric documentarian-in-chief Werner Herzog has said, there is a deeper layer of “ecstatic truth” running beneath the tedious level of fact, one that can only be accessed by the con man and the dreamer.

- Hurricane

Sam Shepard was brought onboard Rolling Thunder just before the tour was set to commence, and tasked with finding a shape for the film project that was meant to intertwine with the journey. Stefan van Dorp’s unconventional documentary was already proving dangerously amorphous, and Shepard—whom Dylan describes as having “a special knowledge of the underworld”—seemed like just the disciplined artist to give the project shape and purpose.

Shepard, comfortably in the gray-haired elder statesman phase of his career, appears in Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue to describe his bafflement at this nebulous cinematic vision. He does not, however, mention Stefan van Dorp. And this omission is most likely due to the fact that when Shepard’s interview was shot prior to his death in the summer of 2017, Stefan van Dorp had not yet been conceived.

Shepard’s is one of several interviews in Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue—alongside such tour members as Ronnie Hawkins and Ronee Blakley—that take a tone of typical historiography, one that seems somehow out of step with van Dorp’s presence. It would stand to reason, then, that these traditional interviews were likely shot for the first iteration of Scorsese’s film. In a promotional clip released by Netflix, the director discusses his editors’ first rough cut of a Rolling Thunder Revue documentary, one apparently much closer to the by-the-books No Direction Home. “It’s conventional,” he recalls thinking. “What do I care where they went?” And then he was seized by a flash of inspiration: the film should look to the spirit of Rolling Thunder more than its story. “Let’s embrace the mythology,” he told his collaborators. “[Rolling Thunder is] supposed to explore something that is timeless about us as human beings.”

It was from this spirit of play that Stefan van Dorp was born. The man presented on-screen as the auteur of the archival footage—both the concert scenes and the travelogue material—is in fact a wholly fictional character given life by performance artist Martin von Haselberg. With his decades of experience as an improvisatory provocateur, von Haselberg embodies the van Dorp persona with eerie authenticity, though—as with so many optical illusions—once the viewer is made aware of the falsehood, the tells become evident. Van Dorp is a charming louche, but one perhaps just a bit too comfortable on camera, his bon mots sliding out just a bit too easily and with just a bit too much eloquence. “Please,” he sneers, picking up just a bit too quickly on his cue when asked whether Sloman’s journalistic presence on the tour complicated his own work. “Does the cockroach really cause problems for the house?” It’s a bizarre and unfamiliar witticism, but one the preternaturally camera-ready van Dorp seems to have loaded in the quiver, set to fly at a moment’s notice.

Van Dorp is one of several overt fictionalizations woven into Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue. The arrogant auteur is relatively easy to categorize as the one character created solely for the film; slipperier, perhaps, is the participation of Sharon Stone and Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos, both of whom appear prominently throughout to deliver stories of their own intersections with Rolling Thunder, all of them pure—and easily debunked—fiction. While Stone’s false recollections could plausibly intersect with a casual knowledge of her life story, the narrative spun by Gianopulos runs wholly counter to his own history; the film would have us believe not only that career movie exec Gianopulos once worked in the music industry, but that the Rolling Thunder tour was his idea, a get-rich-quick scheme meant to cash in on the emerging concept of arena rock shows.

Here the narrative contortions of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue begin to beg more metatextual questions than they answer. The tour, by all accounts, was anything but a craven cash grab—“[It’s] what I have to do,” Dylan tells Sloman in On the Road With Bob Dylan, incredulous at the notion that there could be any other reason behind the tour. “It’s in my blood.” Yet Scorsese and Dylan together rewrite history to remove, or at least obscure, this genuine artistic egalitarianism. Given the chance to revise one of Dylan’s final moments of vitality before a decades-long career trough, the pair chose to diminish his status, a choice that seems perverse where so many mythologized true stories skew towards magnifying the subject’s achievements.

For all this misdirection—or, from a less charitable perspective, outright lying—there is no particular effort taken to conceal the deception; with von Haselberg listed in the end credits as “The Filmmaker,” this façade can’t be intended to sustain itself past the moment the lights come up. And if there’s any doubt that Scorsese’s gleeful abuse of realism is meant to be overt, it must be put to rest by the appearance of Rep. Jack Tanner, a figure recognizable not for any true governing experience but for the man embodying him: veteran character actor Michael Murphy, whose face is quietly ubiquitous after more than 100 screen credits across nearly 50 years of appearances in projects from White House Down to Magnolia to Brewster McCloud.

It’s not just the familiarity of the performer that makes Tanner stand out—more significantly, he’s a creation of late director Robert Altman and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau. The pair invented the character for their HBO miniseries Tanner ’88, which followed the misadventures of Tanner’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, a project they eventually followed with Tanner on Tanner, detailing Tanner’s trip to the 2004 DNC convention. While these works incorporated elements of reality into their fiction, pulling history into their fictional vortex, Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue pulls the opposite trick, summoning Tanner across his ever-porous barrier with reality and creating a shared universe between Altman’s satiric historicizing and Scorsese’s own.

After the Lincoln Center premiere of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue in June 2019, Owen Gleiberman spoke with various audience members who had made it through the film unaware of the fictionalized elements. “Most of the people I spoke to,” Gleiberman later wrote for Variety, “were…kind of bummed. Over and over, they said that they felt duped, suckered, even a little betrayed.” But betrayal of his audience couldn’t possibly have been Scorsese’s intent when the fictions are hidden in such plain sight that to even call them hidden seems an overstatement.

And thus arose the central question taken up by critics in the wake of the film’s release: what the hell was the point?

- I Shall Be Released

In the weeks following the Netflix premiere of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue, there was much analysis—and no small amount of hand-wringing—over Scorsese’s chosen effects. “Isn’t fake news our greatest enemy these days?” Larry Fitzmaurice wrote for Vulture, and that notoriously toxic term appears frequently across critical responses to the film. “Why traffic in—for want of a better term—‘fake news,’” Rob Salkowitz asked in Forbes, “at this fraught moment in our history when the difficulty of telling fact from fiction is no laughing matter?” Gleiberman is happy to take it a step further in his Variety piece, quoting a friend who called the film “more Trumpian than Dylanesque.”

Among those willing to extend Scorsese a bit more benefit of the doubt, the common presumption has been that the film’s ethos is an extension of Dylan’s longstanding history of misdirection and deceit in his personal mythologization. We are speaking, of course, of the man whose canonical life story is woven from so many contradictory threads that his 2007 biopic, I’m Not There, had to be fractured and abstracted just to convey the cubist prism through which his biography has long been filtered. It takes no stretch of the imagination to align the project with Dylan’s indifferent approach to truth. But with Scorsese—who went from perpetual Oscar loser to anointed Best Director in the years between his Dylan projects—at the controls, it’s hard to believe the storytelling choice could be quite so simple.

The use of “cubist” to describe Dylan’s projected self-image is no casual association. During his post-crash sojourn, much of which he spent in upstate New York raising a family, Dylan took up painting as a hobby, and eventually apprenticed with Norman Raeben, whose education on the cubist school—the principle that literal representation is less meaningful than a rendering that defies natural laws of space and time—influenced not just Dylan’s dabbling with visual art but his approach to songwriting as well. In the liner notes to the 1985 box set Biograph, Dylan discusses “trying to make [my songwriting] like a painting where you can see the different parts but then you can also see the whole of it.”   

There are several moments throughout Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue in which Dylan seems to tip his hand and allow a glimpse at the meaning behind the misdirection. And in one of the most notable, the septuagenarian rocker purrs, “Life isn’t about finding yourself…it’s about creating yourself.” The Rolling Thunder Revue was nothing if not an act of regeneration; the man who wished a decade earlier to “get me a new Dylan, and use him” did just that, inhabiting a defiantly false persona complete with pancake makeup and the occasional translucent mask. After a decade’s absence from the tumultuous tides of pop culture (“I missed out on Woodstock,” he writes in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One with a textual shrug. “Just wasn’t there”) his reentry wouldn’t have been viable had he attempted to hop directly back onto the track he’d ridden in the ‘60s. Instead, he needed to find a new track—or, perhaps preferably, no familiar track at all.

And so his chosen trajectory upon returning to the public stage was to forcibly control the narrative. If he subverted every typical mode of projecting artistic sincerity, then no journalist could hold him to account for preaching any sort of message. The old Bob Dylan had written protest songs because they were fashionable and sold well, and a hero-starved culture had punished him with their expectations and skepticism. Now, it was time to create another Bob Dylan, one who projected nothing but transparent falseness. And to tell the story of this art-directed reemergence, no style could be more natural than one imbued with that spirit of disregard for pedestrian concerns like the truth. Conventional verisimilitude would diminish the entire operation to the point that you wouldn’t be telling the right story at all.

Even beyond this spiritual embodiment of Rolling Thunder, however, the cubist portrait painted by Dylan and Scorsese has yet one more imperative. Because Stefan van Dorp may not have conceived of this hallucinatory avant-garde film. But someone else certainly did.

- Sara

Contrary to what Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue would have you believe, the film shot alongside the tour was, in fact, completed. Renaldo & Clara, Bob Dylan’s debut as a feature filmmaker, was eventually edited into a rambling and mumbling whole that runs nearly four mostly-incoherent hours. Released in a few theaters in 1978, the film was pulled from circulation after only a week due to complete audience rejection; it has not been commercially available in any form since.

Seemingly inspired by loose and experimental French New Wave works, as well as his experiences with D. A. Pennebaker on the landmark 1967 documentary Dont Look Back, Dylan crafted—following, by all accounts, an intricate personal editing code inspired by musical composition—a protracted collage of stilted semi-improvised encounters between members of the tour (sometimes playing themselves, sometimes fictional characters, and often some enigmatic combination) all braided with that outrageously arresting concert footage. In No Direction Home, Dylan speaks nostalgically of working with Pennebaker, and the run-and-gun approach of Direct Cinema documentarians: “They didn’t light places,” Dylan muses, “they didn’t have to stop filming. If you ran, they ran.” It seems more than likely that this thrilling experience and the equally thrilling film that resulted were at the fore of Dylan’s mind as he conceived his project. But while this approach may be ideal for fly-on-the-wall documentary, it’s a poor fit for narrative film, no matter how abstract the vision.

Dylan’s vague plans were only further complicated by the grueling schedule of a rock tour; Shepard writes in his Logbook of realizing early on that the scarce and brief shooting windows would make traditional scripted scenes unfeasible, leaving the performers—few of whom had any experience as actors—to riff on vague scenarios Shepard was forced to generate in the heat of the moment. Thus, the narrative of Renaldo & Clara is in constant flux, any hints at a potential running story undermined by inaudible dialogue and inscrutable editing.

It’s hard to imagine that even the craftiest editor could wrestle Renaldo & Clara into shape, so it was likely always destined for obscurity, and no proper restoration has ever been attempted for this now half-century-old footage. But to remaster and distribute only the concert scenes would rob those performances of their full power by removing the supporting structure in all its ramshackle cubist ambition. To preserve the infectiously eerie spirit channeled by the stage show, the connecting material should be just as uncategorizable as Bob Dylan’s great filmmaking folly.

This spirit of spritely obfuscation, of course, gave rise to Stefan van Dorp, but even beyond his use in embodying the project’s mood, van Dorp serves a convenient function. With large swaths of Renaldo & Clara repurposed for Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue, some explanation was necessary as to why that footage seems so addled and contrived. Rather than outing himself as having strayed beyond his artistic purview, Dylan allows van Dorp to absorb the weight of his cockeyed directorial choices. And rather than failed narrative scenes, the documentary’s conceit reframes the footage as highly stylized but nevertheless authentic.

Thus scenes that seem agonizingly slack when presented as fiction become vibrant when viewed as fact; in one standout moment from Renaldo & Clara, Joan Baez provokes Dylan on his poor treatment of her a decade prior. In his Logbook, Shepard writes of his confusion over whether the conversation is fabricated or genuine—if the former, it’s “the worst melodrama on earth,” while if the latter, it’s “the best head-to-head confessional ever put on film.” By recasting the moment not as Dylan’s desperate attempt to gin up watchable drama but rather Stefan van Dorp’s attempt at Direct Cinema, the scene becomes unambiguously a bitterly wistful encounter between one of the most iconic musical duos of the ‘60s, all of it presented for an audience to consume with uncomplicated interest, tedious facts be damned.

The Renaldo & Clara salvage job represented by Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue allows for one more revision, covering a necessary but significant omission: Scorsese’s film makes no mention of Dylan’s marriage. By 1975, after a decade and four children, Dylan and his wife Sara had reached a torrid and desperate crossroads, making one last bid to save a marriage that was already beyond hope. Given that she was traveling with her husband, Sara is a constant figure in his mutagenic epic, even portraying half of the eponymous duo; it’s this inadvertent and abstracted portrait of a relationship struggling to its close that makes Renaldo & Clara most worthy as a cultural document.

But for as fascinating as this element may be, to repurpose and relitigate the former Mrs. Dylan’s intersection with the Rolling Thunder Revue would run counter to her long-standing desire to remove herself as much as possible from discussions of her ex-husband’s life. And so van Dorp and his fictionalized cohort serve not only as an energizing force elevating Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue above traditional rock docs, they operate as deft sleight of hand. To cut around Sara would leave the film even more incoherent than it already is. Scorsese and Dylan found a way to rehabilitate Renaldo & Clara in perhaps the only viable form: a slick and conventionally appealing revision of that spirit Allen Ginsberg likens in archival footage to a “con man carnie medicine show of old.”

That sort of ambition is too grand to last forever. By all accounts, after shooting wrapped on Renaldo & Clara at the close of the tour’s 1975 leg, some light went out in Dylan’s spirit. The tour’s second leg was a notorious disappointment, with an increasingly bitter and withdrawn Dylan putting forth shows that lacked the wit and mischief of the previous winter. The spiritual green berets who’d been his partners in crime found themselves either forcibly alienated or unceremoniously removed from the bill, and with Sara having returned home following their failed bid at reconciliation, Dylan increasingly sequestered himself with a rotating parade of girlfriends.

“It was meant to be done once,” bassist Rob Stoner would later say of the Rolling Thunder Revue’s failed extension. But this second act of Bob Dylan’s second act is elided in Scorsese’s film. It’s a better story without this messy and painful truth—and as Mark Twain is said to have said, facts should never be allowed to get in the way of a good story.

- This Land is Your Land

For as thrilling as Dylan’s renditions of his new material may be, the true revelation of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue is the reinvention of his troubadour material, those humble folk tunes that first earned him a permanent seat at the table. As part of his aggressive reinvention campaign, Dylan rips through these old songs like a man on fire, dismantling a piece like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and reshaping it into a howl—maybe of rage, maybe confusion, maybe just the overflowing power of a talent kept at bay for a decade finally given free rein. [3] The new interpretation serves as a measuring stick for how far American culture had come in the 13 years since this epochal protest anthem, and all the agonizing complexity that had been introduced into the cultural equation—not to mention a thumb in the eye of the crowds who a decade earlier would have considered the reinterpretation heresy of the highest order.

In No Direction Home, Greenwich Village mainstay Dave van Ronk suggests that Dylan possesses a preternatural ability to tap into the Jungian collective unconscious of America—in the early 1960s, that channeling of the national spirit resulted in melodic provocations, measured works perfect for crying out in ecstatic unison. Now, opening himself once more to the American psychic stream, he became the conduit for a national fever dream. In his book, Sloman, defines Dylan’s great calling as “[telling] the tribe the news of the hour,” and in the wake of Watergate and the fall of Saigon, the hour’s news was bleak.

Elsewhere in No Direction Home, Bob Neuwirth—folk scene fixture and erstwhile Rolling Thunder member—highlights Dylan’s uncanny ability to force popular culture into alignment with his whims; the experimental urge to meld folk with electric rock was so unimaginable it was practically taboo, but he executed it with such inarguable skill that the rest of the world had no choice but to catch up. The Rolling Thunder Revue was likely never destined for this seismic cultural impact—by the mid-‘70s, pop culture was already showing signs of the fragmentation that would lead to our much-discussed twilight of the monoculture—but in his 1975 odyssey, Dylan was nevertheless presaging something, be it the future of flamboyantly false rock shows or an eventual mass skepticism towards purported objective truth in a world of alternative facts. America may not have caught up with him right away, but like a cultural magnetic north, Bob Dylan would eventually guide us towards his ideal, no matter how desperate and embittered that ideal may have seemed when manifested by an artist jettisoning every vestige of his past.

In the closing stretch of Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan looks back across the gulf of nearly four-and-a-half decades and gives his final rambling ruling on the Rolling Thunder Revue: “It wasn’t a success,” he ultimately sighs. “But it was a sense of adventure.” Asked what remains of the tour today, though, he has a definitive answer: “Not one single thing. Ashes.” If anything in this most audacious example of cinematic creative nonfiction can be taken as fact, it’s this. By the end of the tour, Bob Dylan’s second act had gone up in flames. A new Bob Dylan would soon be born.

[1] Translating literally as “the unusual America,” the term was also the title of a 1960 documentary by François Reichenbach released in English as America as Seen by a Frenchman.

[2] While many sources, including IMDb and the Netflix homepage, list the film’s title as Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, this is the title per the onscreen card; this essay will omit the cheeky hyphen animated into that card transforming “Revue” into “Re-vue” at the last moment.

[3] It’s also, more than likely, cocaine abuse in action. The drug was plentiful on the tour, but to ascribe too much of the performances’ power to illicit substances would seem a disservice to the last true stand of what Ginsberg refers to in archival footage as the inspired Dylan.

https://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/bright-walldark-room-october-2019-a-new-spirit-for-75-by-ethan-warren (https://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/bright-walldark-room-october-2019-a-new-spirit-for-75-by-ethan-warren)