Bob Dylan is perhaps the greatest living songwriter today. His story has been told and retold – at least from other peoples’ perspectives. Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, takes the story of Bob Dylan right to the source. The result is a thoughtful documentary that not only traces the history of the singer, but his roots and his impact as well. And there’s tons of archival footage to boot.
There’s no arguing Dylan’s stripped down folk songs are among the most influential music of modern times. He encouraged his listeners to act, ponder the changing times of the 1960s and 1970s, to become active in life rather than passively trudging along. Dylan actually was the rebel James Dean became synonymous for.
But it wasn’t just the music that made Bob Dylan so appealing. It was the whole package he evoked. He played to the camera, challenged its purpose. In the process he elevated his own character and mystique.
No Direction Home isn’t the first time Dylan has been the focus of a major documentary. D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back caught the singer just as he was starting to emerge as a superstar. It was a fly-on-the-wall piece of cinema verité that was more Bob Dylan as an enigmatic character rather than Bob Dylan as a person. He played to the camera, which, in turn, added to his mystique.
While Don’t Look Back was filmed as Dylan was emerging, No Direction Home explores him reflectively. Let’s face it, time is going to catch up to him sooner than later. Scorsese is able to get the info straight from the source rather than chasing after “friends” in a post-mortem synopsis. Sure, friends make an appearance here but it’s to help flesh out the intimate portrait Dylan himself provides.
Even without seeing No Direction Home, it’s pretty obvious that Dylan is a character. So it would be somewhat of a waste to simply focus on that perspective. Instead Scorsese digs deeper, exploring Dylan’s musical roots and looking at the specifics of his accomplishments.
Framed by tons of rare footage, No Direction Home penetrates the soul of one of modern music’s greatest icons – at least as much as Dylan will let us.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan Gallery
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan Trailer