By Linc Leifeste | May 18, 2011
Director: Joel Gilbert
Bob Dylan Revealed, by title alone, boldly proclaims itself as a rare beast, one of the few among the countless Dylan studies that actually says something new and insightful about the man. Before I get into any details, let me just say this this documentary not only doesn’t reveal Bob Dylan, who doesn’t even make an appearance other than in archival photos and footage, the man’s music isn’t even anywhere to be heard. Instead you get to hear the music of Dylan cover band Highway 61 Revisited (which features none other than director Joel Gilbert!). That information alone should let you know that this is anything but the “intimate biography” that it advertises itself to be.
The film is composed of extensive and often underedited interviews with a number of generally minor players in the extensive Dylan aggregation. I’m not trying to knock them but I don’t think drummers Mickey Jones or Winston Watson are going to be the ones to reveal the enigmatic Dylan to the masses. That’s not to say that they don’t have some interesting things to say, for example I particularly enjoyed the Jones segment covering Dylan’s 1966 electric tour with the Band and his narration of the extensive home video recordings he made at the time, but I don’t think the assembled cast is one that is likely to reveal anything of depth about Dylan.
Those interviewed in the documentary include iconic Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler, drummer Mickey Jones, backup-singer Regina McCrary, journalist Joel Selvin, photographer Barry Feinstein, bassist Rob Stoner, violinist Scarlet Rivera, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, Pastor Bill Dwyer, trash-skimming Dylanologist A.J. Weberman (clearly the best choice for a Dylan expert versus any of the countless Dylan biographers), drummer Winston Watson, songwriter Al Kasha, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
The structure of the film, such that it is, is divided between various segments: Dylan’s early days at Columbia Records, the 1966 world tour with the Band, Dylan’s (alleged, intimated, possible) drug rehab stint (one of the most poorly executed but thankfully brief sections of the film, nobody actually comes out and says his motorcycle accident was a faked cover for a stint in drug rehab as much as it’s implied by the segment title), his 1974 comeback and 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, his Gospel period (and return to Judaism), and finally his current Never Ending Tour. I found some segments more interesting than others, the Rolling Thunder Revue and the Gospel period for example, but they work only to whet your appetite for a well-executed documentary (not that the market isn’t already flooded with books and documentaries on just about every Dylan phase).
Director Joel Gilbert, who includes himself in the film a number of times, comes across as walking a fine line between being some kind of scam artist for misleading his interview subjects into thinking they were involved in a serious and professional Dylan documentary (the man convinced Jerry Wexler to a sit-down interview for this mess, for the love of God!) and a well-intentioned if unprofessional Dylan fanatic. The interview footage is poorly edited and cheap looking and the whole film is damaged by amateur graphics and poor sound editing.
I’m not sure but I’m guessing the random seeming nature of topics covered is probably due to the interviewees that Gilbert could actually land for the film and their areas of knowledge. Of course, this is evidently Gilbert’s fourth documentary on Dylan and several of the earlier films focused on topics that are also covered in this film so maybe this was just an easy way to produce a fourth Dylan documentary (just in time to take part in Dylan’s 70th birtday hoopla!) by pasting together elements of the three that were already done.
I suppose if a Dylan neophyte were to watch this film something might be haphazardly revealed and they would come away with a piecemeal picture of the man and his music. And for more devoted Dylan fans, like myself, there are fleeting momentary delights (such as Mickey Jones’ home videos, Barry Feinstein’s photos, the footage of Dylan participating in a Jewish telethon) sprinkled piecemeal throughout the nearly two-hour mess, although I’m sure the countless devoted Dylan fanatics will know that everything in this documentary has been seen somewhere before.
Bob Dylan Revealed is now available on DVD from See of Sound.