I wrote a few days ago that Martin Scorsese‘s Rolling Thunder Revue is “all over the map in a splotchy, rambunctious sort of way, but it’s mostly a fun, relaxing ride — a 140-minute road journey with some very cool and confident people. Mish-mashy, whimsical, good-natured, sometimes deeply stirring and in four or five spots flat-out wonderful.”
It’s been on Netflix for two and a half days. Is it deeper, stronger, more pleasurable or less substantial than I suggested?
Here’s a very nicely written riff by WBGO’s Harlan Jacobson (which you can also listen to): “You have to be a little careful with Rolling Thunder: Scorsese has punctuated his extraordinary career as film’s Dostoevsky — from Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull all the way to The Age of Innocence and The Wolf of Wall Street — with music docs like The Last Waltz, George Harrison and No Direction Home, a PBS doc about the young Dylan.
“Rolling Thunder Revue adds into the mix of archival footage some witness testimony by recognizable people — Sharon Stone, for instance — who weren’t there but are playing fictional characters like The Beauty Queen, a high school groupie. If I go any further about Scorsese’s creative innovation — real people playing fictional roles in a documentary — we’ll all fall through Alice’s funhouse mirror and remain lost forever.
“In this terrible media age, it makes some critics nervous that it’s a blend of fact and fiction to arrive at ‘faction,’ a truth that relies on invention. It’s that kind of work. Creatively, it’s a beautiful cull of footage from when we thought we’d stay forever young.”
HE to Jacobson: Bullshit. Scorsese’s doc isn’t some fanciful, mask-wearing thing. 96% of it is just footage of Dylan’s ’75 Rolling Thunder tour throughout New England intercut with visual-aural references to what life was like back in the mid ’70s. The fact that it contains invented testimony from four fleeting fakers doesn’t dilute the basic composition.
Back to Jacobson: “Scorsese laces throughout the film these concert closeups of Dylan, the bard of late 20th Century America, earning his Nobel Prize by singing what was then assumed to be truth to power with utter clarity. The result is a kind of emotional truth about something larger than the tour, but about post WWII America that was truer than the official story would acknowledge.
“Taken together — Rocketman, David Crosby Remember My Name and Rolling Thunder — are more than about music men, and I say that because women are mostly sidemen in them. They are about Boomers, who are now, in Dylan’s much earlier phrasing, busy dying.
“Boomers are an insecure generation about who they are and what they’ve done, as if they’re still teenagers asking where do we go from here? They are the children, after all, of what Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation. Boomers experienced the full weight and power of D-Day, the 75th anniversary of which we just celebrated, in the conflicted way of fathers and sons, which is different than Xers, Millennials, and later generations do.
“When D-Day is the totem of what your Dad did — whether he wanted to or not, even whether he was there or not — and Woodstock and the mudslide is yours, there’s something going on there, Mr. Jones, and even if you don’t know what it is, it becomes the rock you push uphill forever.”