Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, not rated
Starring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Sam Shepard, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg
Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Now available on Netflix and in select cinemas (which is the ideal space to see this film), Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is a film you live in — it rambles and flows along like a glorious road trip, much like the ramshackle tour of off-the-beaten-path locales Dylan conceptualized and embarked upon in America’s bicentennial year. Like the walkin’ contradiction of Dylan himself, the documentary is partly truth and partly fiction. At this point — when certain events are often misremembered by these legends of the 1970s (as Dylan himself admits in the film’s opening) — why not make some things up? It feels completely in the spirit of Dylan’s music.
The characters in this rolling roadshow are as memorable as they come, and they each play a crucial role in the circus. (I was particularly moved by the trajectory of Allen Ginsberg.) Sam Shepard, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Ronee Blakley — I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with this ensemble?
And what can I say about the music? It is extraordinary. I love the way in which Dylan and Joan Baez start performing a song together before the curtain even rises. In perhaps the most touching moment of the film, a young woman breaks down into tears as the Revue ends and the lights rise. As always, Scorsese understands the power of silence — as we observe the effect Dylan’s music has on this woman, only the faintest crowd murmur is audible.
Scorsese and Dylan have pulled off a magic act with this film. Rolling Thunder Revue is less of a straightforward narrative concerning Dylan’s life (a la Scorsese’s masterful No Direction Home: Bob Dylan) and more of a coda to The Last Waltz (or, chronologically speaking, a prelude).
Even in the most well-crafted documentaries, I’m often aware of the overlying narrative thread, as one subject is tied to another in a rather neat and tidy way. I never experience this with Scorsese’s documentaries. They flow so naturally, and I’m simply swept up in the experience of his subject. I can’t wait to hop in the van for another ride.
Although adults are the primary audience for Rolling Thunder Revue, if you’re looking for a way to introduce your children to Bob Dylan’s music, this is a great opportunity. Because the film features some language, backstage rancor and brief nudity, I’d recommend it for ages 13 and above.