Bob Dylan – Roads Rapidly Changing (2015)

Bob Dylan – Roads Rapidly Changing (2015)

Cast: Eric Anderson; Maria Muldaur; Derek Barker; Robert Christgau; Anthony Decurtis; Peter Stampfel; Nigel Williamson; Izzy Young; Harold Leventhal; Martin Carthy
Studio: Sexy Intellectual SIDVD582 (Distr. by Chrome Dreams)
Chapters: Intro; Traditions Reclaimed And Reborn; Meanwhile In Hibbing; Greenwich Village; The Pilgrim’s Progress; An Auspicious Debut; Songwriting; A Classic Composition; London Town; Freewheelin’; The King And Queen Of Folk; The Protest Figurehead; Things Change; Another Side; Breaking Away; The End Of An Era
Video: 16 x 9, color and black & white
Audio: English PCM stereo
Length: 121 minutes
Extras: Eric Anderson On Bob Dylan; Contributors’ biogs
Rating:  Audio: ***1/2      Video: ***        Overall: ***

With the unusually long career of Bob Dylan, there have been numerous documentaries. Most of them deal with a specific phase of his career. That’s a challenge in itself. Which Bob Dylan does a filmmaker deem to observe? Is it the rebel who changed the face of folk music? What about Dylan’s comeback (probably several versions of that)? Maybe it’s the born-again rocker or one of the reunions with his group the Band. Perhaps it’s Woodstock Bobby or Nashville, or arena rock with The Grateful Dead or Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. The list goes on and on. It seems that every nugget of Dylan lore has been excavated and most likely it has. But it’s still Bob Dylan, and the mystique will never wear off.

Sexy Intellectual Studios has released a DVD, Bob DylanRoads Rapidly Changing. The film specifically deals with his early folk years of 1961-1965. While the content is interesting, there are no revelatory moments. The film begins with a brief history of Greenwich Village and early blues music (with an emphasis on Lead Belly). Enter young Bob Dylan from Hibbing Minnesota into the folk protest movement of the early sixties. Maria Muldaur and Eric Anderson capably describe the “basket night” informality. It is clear that Dylan is talented and very ambitious. He secures a record deal with Columbia and releases his debut, Bob Dylan and the ascent to fame is underway. His next album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan showcases a bona fide songwriter. When Peter Paul & Mary cover “Blowin’ In The Wind” everyone knows about Bob Dylan.

He has developed into a charismatic solo performer, and makes a big splash at Newport.  When the Beatles emerge, Dylan re-connects with electric rock and roll. Additionally, he is studying free form verse and prose. The media had dubbed him the “Voice of a New Generation”. The inevitable transition to pop stardom and celebrity has begun. When The Byrds do “Mr. Tambourine Man” as a rock song, it is clear that things will never be the same. Bringing It All Back Home and the D.A. Pennebaker film Don’t Look Back (whose well-know “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is included) cemented Dylan’s status as a living legend. Roads Rapidly Changing ends with the controversial 1965 electric Newport set.

This documentary lacks major figures in defining the context. But there are some great performance snippets, (“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, “With God On Our Side”, “Girl From North Country”, “Chimes Of Freedom”, “Maggie’s Farm”) that highlight the charismatic performer. The PCM 2.0 audio of those live recordings is very good, as is the clarity of the interviews. The film has a plethora of photographs (mostly black & white) and brief song footage (a rare Tom Paxton one stands out). The overall pace is slow (and not helped by the droning voiceover).

—Robbie Gerson

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