“That’s all clumsy bullshit,” the elder Bob Dylan says at the outset of the thrilling put-on and picaresque “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese.” Scorsese’s own opening gambit is a slap of turn-of-the-twentieth-century special effects by Georges Méliès, of disappearance-reappearance special-effects prestidigitation: you see the body; the form is obscured; the body returns. (A form of Gypsy Rose Lee’s key rule for the stripper’s calling, if you will: reveal, conceal.)
Devilish delirium, the reconstruction of that freewheeling 1975-1976 small-venue concert tour, as well as Dylan’s ill-fated fiction “Renaldo and Clara,” with interviews old and new and dashes of outright fiction, the Dylan-Scorsese joint is a prankster funhouse of a neo-documentary. What a loud/quiet thrill, this high burlesque of detritus from 1970s American politics and pop culture and Dylan’s fated-to-be-ill-fated-to-be-legendary super tour that at times included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ronee Blakely and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. I could name a dozen or two scenes that are colossal knockouts, and none more than a house party where Joni Mitchell plays. (I say no more; please enjoy, as the old people say on the internet.)
Dylan, as is his well-worn wanton wont, provides the world, turned inside out and ridden sideways into live-action apocrypha. “Life isn’t about finding yourself—or finding anything. Life is about creating yourself,” Dylan muses, and he and his conspirators, not limited to Scorsese and editor David Tedeschi, set out to find the fiction about the truth, the truth about the fiction, and rollick in the cavalier caravanserai that is the career of Bob Dylan entire. It’s a fine blast, to be played loud. It’s a loud movie and pretty much a great one. With Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Scarlet Rivera, Joan Baez, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Jim Gianopulos, Sam Shepard, David Mansfield, Sharon Stone, Ronnie Hawkins, Anne Waldman, Chief Rolling Thunder, Chief Mad Bear, Peter La Farge, Michael Murphy, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Bob Neuwirth, Mick Ronson, T Bone Burnett, Steven Soles, David Mansfield, Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth, Luther Rix. 142m. (Ray Pride)
“Rolling Thunder Revue” is on tour on Netflix.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.