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With: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth, Joan Baez, Alan Price, Tito Burns, Donovan, Derroll Adams
Written by: D.A. Pennebaker
Directed by: D.A. Pennebaker
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 96
Date: 05/17/1967

Don't Look Back (1967)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All Over Now

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I did not become a Bob Dylan fan until I was in my thirties, a thing that might have been unheard of back in Dylan's heyday in the 1960s. At the time, Dylan was a cultural revolutionary, stirring up controversy among his detractors (usually older), and adoration among his many fans (usually younger). Now Dylan is 74 years old, his albums are widely regarded as classics, and the movie Don't Look Back seems less like a political statement than it does a document of a time. Although once it starts unspooling, it feels just as fresh as it must have in 1967.

Director D.A. Pennebaker approaches the movie a passive observer style, a fly-on-the-wall, which was also popular at the time in the films of Albert and David Maysles, Robert Drew, and Frederick Wiseman. Of course, no film can be completely realistic, since the introduction of a camera into any situation immediately changes that situation. Moreover, Dylan is such a slippery, brilliant performer -- both onstage and off -- that it's likely he's giving us a canny performance as Bob Dylan, rather than a glimpse of the "real" Bob Dylan. (Indeed, in all the years since, and in many other films like Eat the Document, Masked and Anonymous, and No Direction Home, the "real" Dylan has never been truly captured.)

Don't Look Back -- or, actually "Dont Look Back," without the apostrophe -- shows us Dylan on tour in England in 1965, just around the time he began switching from folk protest songs to more personal songs, and, shortly, to "electric" rock 'n' roll songs. The movie begins with the great, legendary "music video" for "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Later in the film, some teen girls give Dylan a hard time about the song ("it feels like you're putting us on!"). During the rest of the film, we see Dylan in hotel rooms, singing songs and hanging out with friends, or talking to reporters, evading their questions, and somehow managing to put them on the defensive. We also witness some behind-the-scenes haggling over fees, and Dylan's silly rivalry with fellow folk singer Donovan (best known today for songs like "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman"). Joan Baez also turns up, with her far more accomplished -- and far less interesting -- singing voice.

Dylan comes across as arrogant, brash, and intimidating, but no less brilliant and electrifying. His playful, sincere performances reveal everything. He's not a great singer, or a great musician, but the unique, personal combination of these things comes out as something extraordinary. Overall, there's not much in Don't Look Back to qualify it as a great movie, or even a definitive portrait of Dylan. But it's enough to make a viewer want to explore more of this singer's work, and that's reward in itself.

In 2011, Docurama Films has released Don't Look Back on a new Blu-Ray edition. Extras include a commentary track by Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth, an interview with Pennebaker conducted by Greil Marcus, five songs, an alternate cut of the "Subterranean" video, and a trailer. A bonus DVD includes a featurette: "65 Revisited," filled with outtakes and other footage. In 2015, the Criterion Collection gave it their expert treatment, with a 4K transfer and monaural soundtrack that probably comes as close to the original 16mm film as possible. It contains many of the same extras, plus some new ones: a documentary on Pennebaker, outtakes, an interview with Patti Smith, etc. Overall, there's a LOT of stuff here for Dylan fans. Essential.

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