Dont Look Back – D. A. Pennebaker (1965)

“‘D.A. Pennebaker is the grandaddy of the documentary – he didn’t buy his camera, he built it,’ explains Joseph Baldassare, curator of a new exhibition about Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back. It famously chronicled Bob Dylan’s pivotal 1965 tour of England and his transformation from a polite leading light of the marginal folk scene into an incendiary figure in the cultural mainstream. ‘Very few people change the way of the world,’ says Baldassare. ‘To me there is before Elvis and after Elvis, before Cassius Clay and after Muhammad Ali, and before Bob Dylan and after Bob Dylan. In Don’t Look Back we have the rare vantage point of seeing that moment just before.’ Shot handheld on black-and-white 16mm film, Don’t Look Back invented the ‘rockumentary’. Its fly-on-the-wall style flew in the face of contemporary cinematic convention, and its reputation and influence has steadily grown since its release in 1967. In 2014, the British Film Institute’s authoritative poll of movie industry experts ranked Don’t Look Back as one of the 10 best documentaries of all time. Since the mid-1950s Pennebaker had been a pioneer of the observational ‘direct cinema’ style, and had even helped develop the small synchronised sound and vision system which enabled it. While making films for Life magazine, he was looking for a more personal project when he met Bob Dylan in a bar in Greenwich Village. ‘He [Dylan] said: I have an idea for a film where I write out all the words to this song on pieces of paper, and I’ll just throw them down as I read them,’ Pennebaker recalls. ‘I said: that’s a fantastic idea.’ This eventually became the famous Subterranean Homesick Blues ‘video’ (actually the opening sequence in Don’t Look Back). … So did this idea turn out? ‘Dylan is an interesting person to watch because he is constantly creating himself, and then standing back and trying to witness it,’ says Pennebaker with typical understatement. The movie is mesmeric: while it features spellbinding snatches of a musician performing at the height of his powers, the off-stage drama is just as enthralling. Arriving in England, Dylan is all politeness and charm in the face of a media circus intent on turning him into an easy-to-understand cardboard cutout. But as the chaotic tour wears on, he becomes increasingly abrasive and angry, mercilessly mocking a backstage interloper and demeaning a reporter from Time magazine. …”
Guardian: Don’t Look Back, Bob Dylan and the invention of the rockumentary
W – Dont Look Back
NY Times – No Direction, No Restriction: D.A. Pennebaker Looks Back at a Dylan Documentary
YouTube: Interview with Time Magazine, “Give the anarchist a cigarrette”, Reads Fan Mail, All I Really Want To Do (Live in Liverpool – 1965), She Belongs To Me [Birmingham 1965]

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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