Film Review – Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)

Title – Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)

Director – Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas)

Cast – Bob Dylan, Sharon Stone, Martin von Haselberg, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Ronnie Hawkins

Plot – A mixture of documentary and faux-doc as filmmaker Martin Scorsese combines numerous hours of archival footage and modern day interviews to shine a light on Bob Dylan’s famous cross country tour of America in 1975.  

“I wanna tell you something”

Review by Eddie on 10/07/2019

In what’s a documentary that’s sure to delight diehard Bob Dylan fans, Rolling Thunder Revue sees esteemed director Martin Scorsese once more delve into the life and times of the beloved folk superstar after his previous 2005 effort No Direction Home, with Scorsese this time choosing to focus on a very particular time and place in the music legends life in the mid 1970’s.

It’s important to note, Revue is very far from a straightforward documentary, with Scorsese curiously choosing to install into his film fake characters, misleading footage and potentially fake information as he takes an unorthodox approach in examining Dylan and his large cohort of offsiders journey across America as they played numerous shows in an effort to connect more with smaller audiences in more emotionally intimate gigs.

Scorsese’s reasoning behind his trickery, that may not even at first be that apparent is never really explained and its off-putting to say the least as you begin to realise that despite extensive polished footage from this tour, Revue is not at all interested in providing us with the cold hard facts or anything of much substance as it instead flies by thanks to its wonderful time capsule like footage that transports us back to a time and place in American history where the country was healing from the wounds of the Vietnam war and the “hippy” movement was finding itself in a transitional stage of its life.

The footage that Scorsese and his team have managed to polish up and utilise for Revue is truly stunning and thanks to the intimate nature of much of the documents of the tour, we as an audience are literally transported to the stage Dylan inhabits and for anyone that has ever called themselves even a minor fan of Dylan’s works, Revue will be like opening a treasure chest of the very best of the esteemed poet/singer.

All of Dylan’s most well-known songs are here and Scorsese isn’t afraid to let them take centre place in this documentary, as the films near two and half hour runtime is loaded with more concert footage than you could dare dream to see and while this is a sure-fire way to please fans of Dylan’s particular brand of musical musings and instantly recognisable voice, for more casual fans or those along more for the cultural insight, Revue will begin to wear a little thin around the half way mark with Scorsese indulging his Dylan love to an arguably more self-indulgent manner that will alienate more casual watchers.

It’s safe to say that Revue really is a film best enjoyed by Dylan fans as it appears set to be one of the more divisive Scorsese films ever made, most surely one of the most experimental and odd, and in a career littered with not only great fictional films but emotional and insightful documentaries such as The Last Waltz or Living in a Material World, Revue ends up being a mostly cold and rather forgettable experience.

Final Say –

With its odd mix of fact, fiction, archival footage and doctored narrative, Rolling Thunder Revue is an odd experience that will be a favourite amongst Dylan fans and one that gets by for the rest of us thanks to its amazingly captured 1970’s footage.

2 ½ face masks out of 5  

8 responses to “Film Review – Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)

  1. Nice review! I thought Scorsese was busy shooting with De Niro and Pacino, where did he find the time to make a documentary on Bob Dylan?

    • Who knows mate! I actually think this doco was part of the reason behind the delays in The Irishman as well as its CGI troubles.
      E

  2. As a huge Dylan fan, I jumped on this one as soon as it was out. I really loved it, especially because it covers one of my favorite eras of his career. But, like you said, to those who aren’t greatly into him, there is not much to see here.

    • Oh for a Dylan fan I think it doesn’t get much better than this! Scorsese is quite clearly a massive admirer to. I found it interesting but also as a more bystander to Dylan’s work I found it a little hard to love.
      E

    • I must admit I do agree with you. I think it was more a time and place kind of thing for him. I certainly can appreciate the affect he had on the industry and other performers but that’s about it.
      E

  3. I loved this. I thought the fakery was really smart and was very of a piece with Dylan himself. By playing with hyperbole and mythology, the film – for me – gave a greater insight into the mystique around this cultural moment. It’s a larger than life take on mythic figures that addresses our human want to attach huge importance to everything. The genius of the music must be matched by mythology…. Here the music is shown as being enough, the rest is make believe and hyperbole. A classic Dylan tale where mischief, allegory and invention is used to convey something true.

    To break down the story of the tour wouldn’t give as accurate a feel, because some things are larger than the truth attached to them.

    • I think it’s a real must-see for fans of Dylan’s work, not so sure about the rest of us even if I can always appreciate a Scorsese film for its passion and expertise.
      E

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