Bob Dylan's No Direction Home
By Tim Peterson
So, you've read "Chronicles: Volume One" cover to cover, backward and
forward, you even cut out the pages and rearranged it so you could
read it chronologically. You have the lyrics to "It's Alright Ma (I'm
Only Bleeding)" sharpied on a big posterboard tacked to your wall,
you even explicated it like 11th grade English class. You have every
album on vinyl and the entire Bootleg series, you even have the
entire Woody Guthrie discography. But nothing, you still can't figure
out Bob Dylan. Sorry Charlie, but I ain't got good news for ya: Dylan
is still trying to figure out Dylan and even if he has, he ain't
gonna tell nobody.
Dylan's got the whole world dancing in his puppet show and uses
Martin Scorcese's No Direction Home to flaunt it. The film is a
collection of interviews with former Dylan cohorts and clips from
past documentaries compiled to produce a mosaic of an enigma. But you
can't capture Dylan. The whole film feels like three different Dylans
have pulled your bottom lip over your eyes while speaking in tongues
and sprinkling you with salt. And the whole time Ginsberg, Joan Baez,
Bob Neuwirth, and a host of others are shaking their heads in
bewildered laughter like you're at a funeral dressed for a luau and
Dylan's doing the hula. Dylan does what he wants, leaving the rest of
us to catch our breath. As Allen Ginsberg says in the film, Dylan is
like "a column of air."
No Direction Home is Scorcese's way of unraveling the yarn Dylan has
balled up over the years and figuring out where it starts and where
it's headed. But he could unravel only up until the Judas incident,
Dylan's 1966 crucifixion at London's Royal Albert Hall. He could only
unravel where Dylan came from and where he got to, but not how he got
there or where he's going. Only Dylan has any idea of that. As he
states in the film's exposition: "I was born very far from where I'm
supposed to be, so I'm on my way home."
Do not watch this film because you think you know Dylan, that you're
just like Dylan, that you're the only person who understands Dylan.
Watch this film because you don't know Dylan. Watch to see the
chameleon change colors, to see the bags sink under his eyes and the
babyfat wither from his cheeks. Watch to see his eyes hold his
audience, first in uplift then in contempt. Watch to see him giggle
like a schoolboy when Steve Allen calls him a genius. Watch to hear
Dave van Ronk accuse Dylan of stealing his version of "House of the
Rising Sun." Watch for the Judas scene where Dylan sneers in retort
"I don't believe you, you're a liar!" Watch because you never saw the
pressures of being Dylan until you see him rub his face and confess
"I just wanna go home."
Sure, you could drop $30 to see I'm Not There. But wouldn't you
rather watch Dylan's Cheshire Cat grin when he calls himself "a
song-and-dance-man" than Cate Blanchett's imitation? Wouldn't you
rather look at an original Pollock than a replica, even if you see
the paint but can't understand the layers?