Don’t Look Back

By Collin Gallant

At the axis time of rock, between the early and late ’60s, Bob Dylan fundamentally changed pop lyric writing. Ignoring static boy/girl themes of early rock ‘n’ roll and promoting the more self-expressive folk traditions, Dylan set the stage for the second and third parts of the Beatles.

The huge success of artists doing rock ‘n’ roll covers of Dylan’s folk or simply copying his lyrically risky style, coupled with Dylan’s disillusionment with folk fans, many expected the artist himself would change styles.

Don’t Look Back captures Dylan as a startlingly smooth-talking 23-year-old touring London in support of his 1965 album, Bringing it all back home.

Documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker followed the tour cutting 20 hours of footage into 90 tight minutes.

Pennebaker’s film credits play like a veritable who’s who and what’s what of Rock n’ Roll history. Aside from several Dylan projects, Don’t look Back being the first of three, the film maker has shot Lennon and Oko, David Bowie’s last Ziggy Stardust concert, and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop festival.

The film follows Dylan playing expected folk material to filled concert halls, literally months before the release of his seminal rock departure Highway 61 Revisited.

The approaching transformation from acoustic to electric guitar is the unstated conflict in the film. During interviews, Dylan refuses to be pigeon-holed in any way. Increasingly, he battles with interviewers and even fans who ask the same old questions on cliched topics.

The camera work, entirely hand held, unobtrusively lingers on Dylan’s more comfortable moments of seclusion–lost in thought at typewriters, tuning guitars backstage, and, performing his lesser-known compositions in front of huge audiences.

Dylan-philes will be excited to see an angelic Joan Biaz do an early hotel room version of "Love is a four letter word"–a song which Dylan penned and Biaz made famous.

Dylan’s biggest hit to that point "The times they are a changing," which eventually becomes the oh-so-witty hook line of British tabloid articles, is performed with mounting disdain to his demanding audiences.

Pennebaker chooses to highlight less popular songs including extended concert footage of "Ramona", "The lonesome death of Hattie Carrol" and "Don’t think twice (it’s alright)." The climax, the last concert of the tour, is highlight by a beautifully filmed long shot performance sequence.

This film is a must for Dylan fans, but also serves as a good introduction to the artist. You won’t get the hits, but you’ll understand why.

Don’t Look Back plays the Plaza Theatre lateshow this Fri., Sat., and Sun. matinees.

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