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  Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese Tangled Up In Bullshit
Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Martin von Haselberg, Scarlet Rivera, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, James Gianopolous, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Sam Shepard, David Mansfield, Sharon Stone, Ronnie Hawkins, Ronee Blakley, Joni Mitchell, Michael Murphy
Genre: Comedy, Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in 1976, The United States of America was celebrating its bicentennial, but the mood was not celebratory for everyone in the country. It was emerging from the disastrous defeat in Vietnam, Watergate had shaken their faith in politics to the core, and the hippy era of peace and love was well and truly over. But one performer who had been so identified with the sixties was not about to allow himself to be caught up in that malaise. He was Bob Dylan, and over the course of 1975 and '76 he gathered up a band of travelling troubadours and made a journey across the nation, stopping off at small and medium-sized venues to bring his patented brand of folk rock to a new audience...

What Dylan was also doing was recording vast swathes of this tour, on stage and behind the scenes, with plans to edit it into a film: this he did, and it was a critically lambasted flop that only his diehards sought out, on the rare occasions they could actually see it. Therefore it was with some interest among the fans that Martin Scorsese was going to assemble the footage, along with new interviews from selected participants, Dylan included, into a new film that debuted practically simultaneously on Netflix and in the cinemas that showed documentaries as a matter of course. But when they saw it, it was clear you had to be in on some kind of straightfaced joke to appreciate it.

This begins like a normal archive documentary of which we have seen countless times before, largely on television, but Scorsese had been responsible for essay docs featuring multiple clips so his fans (as opposed to Dylan fans) would be aware of what they were in for. Or did they? Now, it's not as if he had not dabbled in comedy before, but for humour you most associate him with scary-funny pictures like The King of Comedy or After Hours, or Joe Pesci confronting Ray Liotta on why exactly he thinks he's funny in Goodfellas - not exactly Steve Martin, then. Yet part of the way in you may note the humour you were noticing in asides that were growing steadily more absurd.

Obviously if you wanted to go into this "blind", as it were, then you would be advised not to read the reviews, or the reviews of those who realised this was a colossal pisstake. But even for the most naïve viewer, there will come a point when your "WTF?!" reactions to some of the more ludicrous comments and reminiscences will turn to a lightbulb going off above your head: Dylan's violinist wore a sword at all times? Sharon Stone was on the revue as a teenager and gave Bob the idea to emulate KISS with the white makeup? Fictional Robert Altman Presidential candidate Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) is a real person and was palling around with our man while he was a Congressman? The final straw will crop up at different times for different people, and there were indications many took the whole thing at face value - but for how long?

Once you were in on the gag, it might make you chuckle, but for two and a half hours? That's nearly how long this lasted, and to add to the complications there were stretches where Scorsese ditched the funnies and went for the serious, as late on when he examines his subject's classic song of legal injustice The Hurricane and plays out the concert rendition of it almost in full, intercut with footage of its subject, Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, paying tribute to the man who kept his case of wrongful conviction in the public consciousness. The consequence of this flitting about scrapbook-style - Allen Ginsberg burbling here, Sam Shepard discussing the previous film project there, Joan Baez almost grudgingly admitting her ex is a great songwriter elsewhere - was not so much difficult to pin down as it was frustratingly capricious. The vintage performances were excellent, you could well see why the tour was so revered, but it was as if all concerned had tried to reimagine that film record Renaldo and Clara and get it right this time (i.e. get rid of the Sara Dylan footage), yet only served to make Renaldo and Clara all over again, two fifths shorter. While you were sure they were pleased with themselves, you may prefer something more... accurate.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Martin Scorsese  (1941 - )

American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.

However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.

Unfortunately, his tribute to the musical New York, New York was a flop, and he retreated into releasing concert movie The Last Waltz before bouncing back with boxing biopic Raging Bull, which many consider his greatest achievement. The rest of the eighties were not as stellar for him, but The King of Comedy and After Hours were cult hits, The Color of Money a well-received sequel to The Hustler and The Last Temptation of Christ kept his name in the headlines.

In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.

Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal Affairs The Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.

This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. Despite being an advocate of the theatrical experience, he joined forces with Netflix for The Irishman, reuniting him with De Niro for one last gangster epic. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.

 
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