Saturday, January 9, 2016

DONT LOOK BACK (D. A. Pennebaker, 1967, USA)

Portrait of a man as a young artist, the anarchy of prose condemned by the prosaic where a guitar recites six string poetry. D.A. Pennebaker's celluloid diary transcends documentary and mere visual journalism, momentarily capturing that thin wild mercury, like photographing a shadow at night as Dylan’s penumbra eclipses his own world.

Pennebaker smartly eschews voice-over and talking heads, allowing his camera to be casual observer in the circus of show business freak show. Beginning with Dylan’s back alley video Subterranean Homesick Blues, where truth is reduced to cue cards crudely discarded, we are intimate passengers behind the lens. The time is 1965 and Dylan is returning to London a star, where fame has confined him to tiny spaces, a prisoner of success. Pennebaker captures Dylan exclusively in cramped cars, trains, rooms boiling over with inane people and vacuous questions, or backstage awaiting his performance surrounded by his entourage. He is a man equated with confinement, both physical and metaphysical, and alone on the stage with the spotlight his epiphany, he masters his craft.

Make no mistake, Dylan is a shrewd businessman concerned not only with his art but its popularity, constantly scanning the charts and music journals for articles written about him or his rivals. But he also mentions in a quick throwaway line that this is only one part of his music, opposing the dark hours of writing long after midnight when the world stops, and the blank page becomes a Nietzschean abyss. Dylan's performances are portrayed in montage, his persona dominating the low angle compositions, the audience invisible shadows enraptured by his words. He doesn't speak between songs because his songs speak for themselves.

Dylan dissects reporters and journalists, refusing to answer questions with static replies and instead seeking fluid dialogue, always confounding the many Mr. Jones'. He only interacts directly with fans in one short segment, a few teenage girls subsumed by the cult of personality, and this other side of Bob Dylan is playful and sincere with these star struck fans. In another scene, Donovan strums his bubblegum melody, his sweet voice a narcotic, and Dylan firmly takes the guitar and belts out one of the best songs ever written, dimming this rising star and turning smiles into Cheshire grins. Another scene depicts Dylan performing to a small crowd of black farmers, then cuts to a concert hall where the reverb echoes his words...but not his intent; a visceral contradiction where words are diluted and reduced to rhyming melodies as pop songs. One thing is for certain, Judas went electric and never looked back!

Final Grade: (B+)

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