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No Direction Home

No Direction Home
Martin Scorsese
Four Stars
Sony BMG

Neha Sharma Jun 21, 2009

Guthrie’s living descendent, the emblematic insurgent, the sound-shifting beguiler, the romantic poet, the despairing critic, the restless troubadour, the poster boy of an entire generation ”“ Bob Dylan, in all his living glory has always made for a timeless subject for any form of intellectual media. The latest translation of Dylan on film, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, was a fair commercial success, but his prolific interpretation of the songwriter’s various facets was a bit lost in translation, owing to various fictionalised references. A casual Dylan listener wouldn’t be able to connect the dots in I’m Not There, but anyone who’s watched No Direction Home, Scorcese’s comprehensive documentary on Dylan, even once I’m Not There becomes a seamless tale in surreal expression. What Scorsese understood very well was the magnitude of the project he was undertaking taking on Dylan as a subject, and he left no stone unturned researching the man’s life, which could easily run into a thesis. No Direction Home spans an engaging 208 minutes: Most documentaries of such length tend to be plodding and trying, but the coming together of two miracle dealers makes this one pay off.

Scorcese’s astute vision spares no detail, at the same time managing to make it not seem like a factual relay. This documentary has soul and serves to unravel Dylan’s myth without shaking his pedestal. For anyone who has read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume 1, there will many parallels to draw ”“ here Scorsese manages to bring Dylan’s words in the book to life from an outsiders perspective. The documentary houses reams of footage ”“ including some very rare black and whites shots ”“ from back in the day when the camera followed Dylan like a love sick puppy, moving through his careless meanderings in beat groups, his hotel room where he lolls about with a groupie and his manager, and sometimes just firing away on his classic black Remington. The interviews that Dylan gave in his heyday make fierce statements about his attitude towards the media: They also make for very entertaining pieces ”“ his flippant demeanour in interviews, especially, is highly amusing. The whole beat consciousness makes itself felt throughout the documentary, mostly through interviews with authors such as Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs ”“ who have been witness to Dylan’s career and have at times served as inspiration to him ”“ as they help disentangle the workings of his mind. Singer songwriter Joan Baez ”“ once Dylan’s muse and lover, who later wrote the heart wrenching ”˜Diamonds and Rust’ about their break up ”“ fondly recalls her days with Dylan. In one cracker of a scene, she reveals how she stole a line from him ”“ “Love is just a four letter word” ”“ and how, clueless as he was, he called her up and lauded her for the great writing.

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In tracing Dylan’s inspirations, Scorsese runs through a long list of artists which takes us from a Bobby Vee to a Woody Guthrie, traversing the drastic changes Dylan embraced sonically from folk to the blues and electric to gospel. The film, though, keeps from getting too personal, leaving Dylan as a figure to be viewed with awestruck adulation. What’s interesting is that the documentary doesn’t follow Dylan in the late Nineties. It leaves him at his peak of his career and in doing that Scorsese has perfectly understood the life of the artist, capturing the period that best defined him. Even if you aren’t a Dylan fanatic, this one is a must watch as it not only showcases his journey, it also works as a relevant and important piece in the study of musicology.

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