Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese (2019). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Though it may seem a little meandering and obtuse in the early going, Martin Scorsese’s music-doc quickly turns into a compelling portrait of Bob Dylan at a ferociously motivated, intensely creative part of his career, carefully unwrapping the layers of illusion behind the formation of something now feted as great art.
The archive concert footage is where the real heady artistic power comes from here with a savant-like Dylan bashing out songs like Isis with a zeal, passion and intensity which is almost unmatched. Until that is, Joan Baez duets with him (particularly on Blowin’ in the Wind) where the air crackles with the lightning fizz of creative electricity.
Marty’s part in this is more scaled back – acting primarily as curator of the B-roll stuff shot by Stefan Van Dorp back in the 70’s and interspersing that with up to date interviews with Bob and others reflecting on the legacy of the tour and attempting to interrogate the meaning and artistic impetus behind it. He creates a compelling narrative of Dylan acting as cultural unifier of heartland America post-Vietnam – bringing his brand of politically edged troubadourism to small towns and promoter-angeringly tiny venues. Yet this is continually undermined by Dylan himself – who dubs the tour as “just something that happened 40 years ago” and responds that all that remains are the ashes when asked what the legacy of the tour is.
It seems brave to create a film which essentially portrays great art as an illusory magic trick – not necessarily an act with great meaning behind it but then Scorsese leaves us with the Revue acting as the creative impetus leading to perhaps Dylan’s greatest protest song in “Hurricane” and his championing of the cause of Rubin Carter. Suggesting that great, meaningful art is an unexpected by-product of the rather frivolous magic trick.