Bob Dylan Revealed Unveils Very Little

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011)

Directed by Joel Gilbert

Highway Entertainment, MVD5 1360, 110 mins.


Bob Dylan is, simply, the most important American musician of the past fifty years. He is a brilliant songwriter and poet, a clever arranger, a good (but not great) guitar player, and a man whose music is steeped in various Americana brews. He’s also vain, boorish, egotistical, and as treacherous as a cobra. If it weren’t for the music, he’s the sort of person you’d go out of your way to avoid. Without that music, Bob Dylan Revealed fails to unveil much of anything.

The video purports to take us back to Dylan’s early days with Columbia Records. We do get some memories from producer Jerry Wexler, and as we wend our way to the 1980s, we also get snippets from others, such as Band drummer Mickey Jones, folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, bass player Rob Stoner, boxer Rubin Carter, violinist Scarlet Rivera, the Rev. Bill Dwyer, and Dylan fanatic A. J. Weberman. And this too is a problem because what we hear and see are random and personal snapshots whose connective tissue to larger events is as thin as generic Kleenex. In some cases it’s as if Gilbert is simply stitching together whatever footage he can get his hands on; in others, the informants speak with a measured reserve reminiscent of defendants with lawyers whispering into their ears. Or, in the case of Hurricane Carter, rants straight out of a Black Power rally circa 1972.

What we get almost none of are the two things we most want: Dylan’s own thoughts and his music. I searched in vain to try to find out whether Dylan authorized this project or refused to be part of it. I suspect the latter, which would also explain why there are few musical clips longer than several seconds in duration--that would be as long as fair use copyright would allow. Without the music we are asked to care about Mickey Jones’s home movies that reveal--gasp!--Bob sitting in the back of a limo or Bob playing acoustic guitar on the stage. We don’t hear that footage, mind you. Instead there is generic filler music and Jones’s narration. Do we care about how much gear was hauled for the Rolling Thunder Revue? Or Dylan’s (embarrassing and brief) conversion to fundamentalism? What are we supposed to make of the several-times-mentioned revelation that Joni Mitchell was booed when Rolling Thunder played at the prison where Carter was incarcerated? (In my mind, anybody who boos Joni Mitchell deserves to be behind bars!)

Here’s the deal. We’re supposed to care about Dylan minutiae with Weberman’s passion. Through the years Dylan has shown very little inclination to care about his audiences, so why would we care about Dylan trivia? We just want the damn music! If you want to probe Dylan’s psyche, Todd Haynes’s semi-fictional I’m Not There (2007) is hard to beat. If you want a bio-doc, Martin Scorcese’s No Direction Home (2005) remains the gold standard; and if you want to know why Dylan matters in social and political terms, read Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan in America (2010). But give Bob Dylan Revealed a wide berth.

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