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  Renaldo and Clara Tangled Up
Year: 1978
Director: Bob Dylan
Stars: Bob Dylan, Sara Dylan, Joan Baez, Ronnie Hawkins, Jack Elliott, Harry Dean Stanton, Bob Neuwirth, Allen Ginsberg, Mel Howard, David Mansfield, Jack Baran, T-Bone Burnett, Ronee Blakley, Sam Shepard, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Arlo Guthrie, David Blue
Genre: Drama, Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Renaldo (Bob Dylan) is travelling the country with his band, performing here in a see-through mask although most nights he prefers to wear white makeup. He has a full entourage accompanying him on this journey, which includes his wife Clara (Sara Dylan), but there is a woman in white (Joan Baez) also following them around, a woman from Renaldo's past who he has mixed feelings about. If these people surrounding him, and he himself for that matter, seem familiar, then surely that's simply coincidence, for this is strictly a fictional work...

And Bob Dylan's band played "Believe It If You Like". Long a source of curiosity for the fans of the groundbreaking singer-songwriter, Renaldo and Clara was more widely seen on the bootleg market than from any official release, and one can only speculate that this could be down to the terrible reaction it received on its initial release. It's little wonder, as at four hours in length if you're not enjoying yourself after about the first thirty minutes, the outlook is not good for the remaining running time, and there were few who were so much fans of their idol that they could take the cinematic equivalent of musical noodling for so long.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase "self-indulgent" was Dylan, who actually didn't appear onscreen for quite a lot of this, preferring to film his friends and hangers-on, though presumably he was behind the camera at all times. Well, most of the time. Whether they are being interviewed about the good old days while playing pinball or actually playing proper characters in improvised scenes (although Dylan and Sam Shepard get the screenplay credit), the individuals in Dylan's orbit each get their chance to shine, and there are naturally celebrity cameos of varying dimensions, usually musical - spot a jamming Arlo Guthrie, for example.

As to what the story concerns, let's say you're better off taking stock of the performances of the singers and musicians when they're playing songs, rather than when they're playing characters. Indeed, there could be a decent concert movie in all of this, based around the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975-6, where there are impressively gutsy renditions of some Dylan favourites such as "Sara" (of course), "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall", "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" among others, while other stars get to perform as well, including Ronee Blakely (who also plays Sara in a few scenes) and Roger McGuinn.

All well and good, but with an endurance test such as this, there's a lot of chaff to sift through to get to the wheat. In some passages, Dylan appears to be offering us a documentary, with for example a bit of investigative journalism about Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, filming him being interviewed about his unjust imprisonment and asking passersby on the street if they have heard of him and if so, what they think (not a tremendous amount, as it turns out). Then there are the more awkward scenes where Bob, Sara and Joan are assembled in the same room to enact some soul-searching theatre as Baez is rejected in favour of Sara, prompting you to wonder why Baez ever agreed to appear in this. If you're wanting insight, then there is as much here as there is in your average home video, so it's best to stay for the music and tolerate the stuff in between as best you can. In 1978, it could have been that your best bet for a fix of His Bobness would have been his appearance at the finale of Martin Scorsese's concert documentary on The Band, The Last Waltz, no matter that the man himself would prefer you sit through this instead.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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