Martin Scorsese ruined this film. There’s no other way to say it. I wish I didn’t have to say it but I do. Few directors have done greater service to musical history than Scorsese. The Last Waltz and No Direction Home are but two of his best among half-dozen or more music related documentaries. Then comes The Rolling Thunder Revue and …. WHAT THE HELL WAS HE THINKING?
This ‘documentary’ (and use that term lightly) uses footage from the famous Dylan tour of that name to explore the tour and its impact. Sorta. Here is the problem: A lot of the best parts are fake. Actors. Fake stories. The sad part is there was no need for it. The concert footage and that of the musicians together is great. In many respects, this is like opening a time capsule or finding forgotten treasures in your attic.
Scorsese spoils the experience. I watch a documentary to learn or relive a moment in time. If I wanted fantasy, I could turn on a rerun of That 70’s Show. I really felt used and exploited. There is no way around this.
I love Dylan. Saw him in concert once. He has inspired some of my writing. And I know he is a trickster to some measure. But that is no excuse for Scorsese to do what he did. We have enough ‘fake’ moments in our lives these days. And in an era when an untalented trickster occupies the White House, and anyone who stands up for truth is ridiculed, this documentary had the potential to be a counter-balance and inspire the viewer to do some soul-searching. (How can you listen to Dylan perform and have it not seem relevant?). Times were rough then like they are now. Scorsese intentionally deprived the audience of that experience.
The why is the big question. I don’t know. Everyone makes a bad call at some point. But on this level, with Scorsese’s experience, this should have never happened. There was a great article published in Variety concerning this topic. It is written by Owen Gleiberman. I link the ARTICLE HERE. Read it.
The only other thing I will add, the more I see footage of Joan Baez from this period, the more I realize what a presence she was. Other than that, I feel like I wasted 2 1/2 hours of my life thanks to Scorsese. This rates a 2/5 on the scale. And only because you can’t go wrong watching Dylan and Baez perform.