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Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review, Criterion Blu-ray

I had fairly high expectations for Criterion’s new director-approved Blu-ray Disc edition of the recent documentary on Bob Dylan’s epic 1975 tour. Called the Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, the film is pretty much exactly what I had heard it was, so I have no really problems with it as an entity.  It is a fun and fascinating tale crafted lovingly by the director with Dylan’s input so there are essential moments on screen that show sides to the artist many of us have not seen before. 

If you haven’t heard about this film, this description from Criterion’s official webpage for it will help paint a picture of what to expect:

“In 1975, in an America defined by both the self-mythologizing pomp of the upcoming bicentennial and ongoing sociopolitical turmoil, Bob Dylan and a band of troubadours—including luminaries such as Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, and Joni Mitchell—embarked on a now-legendary tour known as the Rolling Thunder Revue, a freewheeling variety show that was part traveling counterculture carnival, part spiritual pilgrimage. Director Martin Scorsese blends behind-the-scenes archival footage, interviews, and narrative mischief, with a magician’s sleight of hand, into a zeitgeist-defining cultural record that is as much a concert “documentary” as it is a slippery, chimerical investigation into memory, time, truth, and illusion. At the center of it all is the magnetic Dylan, a sphinxlike philosopher-poet singing, with electrifying conviction, to the soul of an anxious nation.”  

The onscreen images are generally fine on Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, the film presented from a new 4K transfer approved by the director.  The original tour films were taken from 16 mm work prints — so go into this expecting quite a bit of film grain on screen — and combined with modern interviews and such. 

The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is rich and warm, especially for the music portions (newly remixed from 24-channel multi-track master tapes). It is not an especially immersive mix, using the surround channels for creating a sense of concert venue ambiance. The live concert venue vibe comes across nicely and Dylan with his band sound wonderful. 

So all that is good…

No, my only issue is personal in nature: I wish that I had done a little bit of research before making a quick impulse buy on Amazon the moment I saw it.  Actually, credit where credit is due, my music buddy Frank had given me the head up about the sale and the likelihood of a high quality Criterion edition for less than $30 was immediately appealing.

So what’s the problem, you ask?  

Well, if you’re a Dylan fan you will want to own this regardless. Just don’t go into it expecting a wealth of groovy bonuses. There are only three new songs presented in complete form there:  “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” Romance in Durango” and an extended cut of “Tangled Up In Blue.” They are perfectly excellent but there’s only three of them. And, Dylan fans, some of you may know are insatiable collectors of the man’s music — so this feels more like a tease.  

So, sure, there are new interviews with the director, editor David Tedeschi and writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman and all that is perfectly wonderful. And there is a restoration demonstration and a trailer. And there is nifty booklet included with new essays by novelist Dana Spiotta as well as writings and poetry from the tour by Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman,

But, would it have been so hard to include complete uncut performances of everything — or at least most — shown in the documentary? Click here for a list of the songs in the film as listed on the Internet Music Database (IMDB).

Given that there is a boxed set featuring all of the concerts from the tour,Bob Dylan The Rolling Thunder Review: The 1975 Live Recordings, one would think that they might at least be able to give the fans a full audio-only concert or two in high resolution Stereo or in 5.1 surround (using photos from the tour for the onscreen visuals). 

So, that is my nit to pick…

Still, it’s worth getting Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese just to see the menagerie of characters captured in time for eternity. its worth the price of admission to hear Joni Mitchell’s acoustic version of “Coyote.”  And the mind boggles seeing Joan Baez letting loose on stage in a super groovy boogaloo dance on stage. And, it is just so special seeing all this footage of Allen Ginsberg coming to life in all his charming poetic bearish glory. 

And of course, it is amazing to see these diverse Dylans on screen at the same time. Here you see the wise and weathered present day artist looking back remarkably candidly contrasted with the re-invigorated and fun-seeking Dylan leading his merry band of musical wizards across America. That alone makes this film an essential part of any Dylan fan’s collection. 

Maybe at the end of the year we’ll get a deluxe expanded edition of the film with the kinds of extra special bonuses I mention here. Just wishin’ ’n hopin’ ’n guessin’ here, but I am an optimist so lets see keep our fingers crossed and see what the year brings…

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