Rolling thunder revue: a Bob Dylan story by Martin Scorsese captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream, Rolling thunder is a one-of-a-kind experience from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
The concert footage is insane. Even if you were to watch this overly long doccie only for that you would be well rewarded. You obviously have to be a Dylan fan, because this movie does not transcend its subject like some other films do. Luckily for me, I have been a fan since 1987, when I discovered Street-Legal and Desire on vinyl at the local community library, took them home and promptly taped them onto cassette.
The doccie gives you an incredible glance into a much-hyped tour, and a dizzying world and era, that I would not otherwise have witnessed. To see Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez in one room, let alone on one stage, is jaw-dropping. Sam Shepard is thrown into the mix, and I am happy to have been introduced to the personality that is Scarlet Rivera, with her snakes and swords and violin-playing.
Other than that, I was mildly interested in the tension between the two directors. On the one hand you have Stefan Van Dorp who shot the footage way back when. He had a clear idea of what he wanted to say, and it was not going to be a straightforward concert film. Then there’s Martin Scorsese who edits Van Dorp’s footage together and adds rather bland interviews. On top of that, Dylan did not like or trust Van Dorp, but clearly had an affinity with Scorsese.
Luckily for me, in preparation for this review I read up on the tour and found this article.
If you don’t feel like reading it, in a nutshell it states that Van Dorp does not, in fact, exist. He is played by performance artist (and Bette Midler’s husband) Martin Von Haselberg. Vulture goes on to list a few other items that are pure fiction. (Dylan did not invite a 17-year-old Sharon Stone on tour. His use of white face paint is not based on an admiration for KISS. Blah, blah, blah.)
Had I not read the article, I would not have known. I would have passed this on as fact and felt like a real tool. So what’s the point of mixing fact and fiction and presenting it as a doccie? To further the myth that Dylan has always created around himself? To add a layer to an otherwise okay doccie? For Scorsese to fart around with? I am not at all sure. I don’t really care, actually. I am simply happy to have seen the concert footage.