In 1966 Bob Dylan was touring Europe with his new electric band and receiving what could best be described as a mixed response. Eat the Document was a record of this tour shot for ABC-TV to coincide with the release of his novel Tarantula, but it was never aired and wasn't seen for around five years until it turned up on the underground movie circuit and eventually on bootleg tapes. Therefore it has acquired a strange, quasi-legendary status.
The film begins with an obviously stoned Dylan laughing his head off, and then playing the piano, and it continues in this mixed up, cut up manner which jumps between concert footage and shots of the star wandering around, sitting in hotel rooms and playing his guitar at irregular intervals. For many, it's an alienating experience, as if everyone in the film - everyone who matters, that is - is in on a joke they're not willing to share. In the early scenes for example, Dylan watches a parade go by, but the cameraman is more interested in the old geezer with the sandwich board proclaiming the Judgement Day is upon us.
Shortly after, amidst frequent looks at steam trains making their way through the English countryside, a man points out to Dylan and his entourage the site where a boy killed himself by a river; why this was thought worthy of inclusion is unclear. More obvious additions are the brief interviews with fans coming out of the concerts, with many of them disgruntled at their hero's new direction. "It's a bloody disgrace! He wants shooting!" complains one Northerner bitterly, and his sentiments are echoed throughout, with only the select few understanding that Dylan had to move on, and he had done so in his own revolutionary manner. One wonders how the protestors felt about Dylan a few years later when they had had the chance to get used to his new sound.
Every so often a famous face will appear, though there's no sign of Donovan as there was in Don't Look Back, shot around the same time. Eat the Document is often thought of as a companion piece to the D.A. Pennebaker documentary, but this is a lot more chaotic, even irreverent at times. Johnny Cash appears long enough for a impromptu song at the piano and John Lennon is with Dylan in the back of a cab with Dylan holding his head in his hands and looking ill - can't think why - while Lennon jokes that he should pull himself together. The concert footage looks amateurish, and the sound quality is variable, but it's worth seeing the star performing at this turning point in his career; one of the fans seems to get it, proclaiming him better than Donovan and even better than Elvis Presley, and this film shows a playful side to him, if nothing else. Or was it arrogance? It's hard to tell from this.