Bob Dylan and his celebrity friends decided to play a few small shows in 1975 on the East Coast while playing versions of themselves in some sort of energetic, way-out-weird theatrical show worthy of a circus of characters that are all too strange to be real. Part fiction and part truth, Martin Scorsese conjured up his magic filmmaking skills from the decades-old footage and delivered this film titled Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Criterion plays out a fantastic video and audio presentation, along with some very good extras that give some insight into this whacky experience. Highly Recommended!
In 1975, iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan embarked on a multi-venue concert tour with his friends the became a cavalcade of theatre performances, magic, interviews, and discussions about life on the road with music and art. This small, New England/Canadian tour was called the Rolling Thunder Revue, which was filmed and made into a movie in 1978 called Renaldo And Clara. Some thirty years later when Martin Scorsese was making No Direction Home, Dylan's people showed him the outtakes and unseen footage from this Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and Scorsese immediately took the project under his wing. Due to other movies he was working on at the time, Scorsese sat on this footage for more than a decade until 2019 rolled around, where he directed and released this whimsical mockumentary on this short time in Dylan's life that mixes fact and fiction in a hilarious and musical way now called Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.
With elements of Christopher Guest (Best In Show), Bob Dylan decides to round up his friends, including Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell, Sam Shepard, Rubin Carter, and more, to journey to multiple cities, playing music, reading poems, dressing up in costumes, and more in extremely small dive settings. What follows is a series of fictional characters and alternate versions of these famous musicians, playing music together and contemplating life after Vietnam. A young Sharon Stone is asked to be a costume designer where she believes a song is written just for her, Ginsberg leaves the poetry world for a musician's life, and Bob Dylan paints his face after attending a KISS concert, are all facets to this entertaining faux documentary.
Dylan and his friends were having a blast on this tour and it shows by way of their interactions and strange, but upbeat art installations they perform on stage. This came after a very turbulent time for Americans that seemed to be divided as they are today, but this Revue was a way of bringing people together to enjoy music and the stage in a light-hearted and fun way. There are those tiny moments when a universally known song that everyone enjoys comes on that people tend to forget about their differences and sing along to, and this is the kind of realm Dylan and Co. presented to their audience. Even Dylan states some years later that he has no recollection of this time and it may be about nothing at all, but then again, he's doing an awfully good impression of himself, by stating that nothing could be everything in art and music.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is a fictionalized true tale of friends, music, and theatre, all led by Bob Dylan to cheer up and showcase some illusionistic art forms live on stage where their audience would see change and greatness unfold in a bizarro-world type of way. It is simply breathtaking to this day and only furthers the perfect duo of Scorsese and Dylan working together and their appreciation for both music and film mediums to converge like this.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese tours its way to Blu-ray from Criterion with brand new video and audio transfers. The disc is housed in a cardboard open case with a cardboard sleeve with spine #1062. There is a Criterion booklet that is fully illustrated, which includes cast and crew information, tech specs, an essay, images, poems, a journal, and more. The new artwork is excellent and features artwork with Dylan and his friends. This is poster-worthy.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer from Criterion. According to its booklet, the older footage was assembled from 16mm footage and presented in its original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1. Despite years of searching for the original negative of the footage, a 16mm workprint of the movie was used and scanned in at 4K resolution, which was then transferred to 1080p HD.
This movie combines brand new footage and actual footage from the tour from 1975. The older footage looks quite good with this new transfer that enhances a bold color palette of New England and its small venues for music. The wardrobe and makeup look exquisite throughout. Details in the musician's faces and the ever-fine stitching in their costumes can be seen easily now.
There is a wonderful layer of film grain that looks natural at all times. The new interviews, which are basically talking heads are crystal clear and dynamic. Black levels are inky and rich and the skin tones are natural. There are no problems with this video presentation. A lot of time went into making this older film that was shot on the cheap look amazing, yet still filmic of the time without any digital overwash.
According to the Criterion Booklet, the two-inch multitrack analog tapes from the 1975 tour were remastered into a 5.1 audio track, along with digital audio for the new interviews, and it all sounds pitch-perfect. The music is the spotlight of the soundtrack for sure, where all of Dylan's big hits are robust and full of sound on the front speakers. Poetry and monologues sound wonderful as well.
Surrounds pick up the ambient noises of people in the audience, drinks being served, and other stagehands working in the background, providing an intimate live experience. Newer interviews are crisp and clear as well. This is a fantastic-sounding audio mix with some decent low ends of bass when the music kicks in.
There are around 68 minutes of bonus material, including interviews with the crew, additional performances from the tour, and more. Unfortunately, there is no Bob Dylan here.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is a fantastic whirlwind of both truth and creativity behind the scenes of Bob Dylan's infamous music tour with his friends in 1975. Scorsese did a bang-up job on creating this film from footage from that tour and it looks and sounds remarkable in this new Criterion release. The bonus features are all highly watchable, but the absence of Dylan himself was odd. Highly Recommended!