There is no simple way to tell Bob Dylan’s story. The painting is too large. Focus on one small aspect, and you miss the big picture. It’s a story of American culture in transition ... of music in the air, of politics and of art, of literature and of poetry. Drawing from hundreds of hours of unseen footage and rare recordings, in-depth interviews and revealing photographs, No Direction Home
strikes a remarkable balance, telling the story of one man’s journey and at the same time placing that story within the greater canvas of human events.
The two-part film, which focuses on the singer-songwriter’s life and music from 1961-66, includes never-seen performance footage and interviews with artists and musicians whose lives intertwined with Dylan’s during that time.
Dylan talks openly and generously in contemporary on-camera interviews about this critical period in his career, detailing the journey from his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, to Greenwich Village, New York, where he became the center of a musical and cultural upheaval, the effects of which are still felt today.
For the first time, The Bob Dylan Archives has made available rare treasures from its film, tape and stills collection, including footage from Murray Lerner’s Film Festival, documenting performances at the 1963, 1964 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals, previously unreleased outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s famed 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back, and interviews with Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Maria Muldauer, and many others. In anticipation of the film, members of Dylan’s worldwide community of fans also contributed rarities from their own collections.
No Direction Home starts in the eye of the hurricane. Bob Dylan, live, 1966, in front of a hostile audience inflamed by his decision to electrify his music. There are boos, cat calls, fans streaming out. On stage, in newly discovered footage, is Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone." It’s hard to imagine anyone walking out on this performance, no less booing it.
A story told in flashbacks, No Direction Home intertwines the immediacy of Bob Dylan’s controversial 1966 tour of the British Isles with his remarkable personal and musical journey.
Part I is the portrait of the artist as a young man. We trace Bob Dylan’s journey from a rock-and-roll loving kid in the Midwest to his arrival as a major musical force in the world of folk music. We visit with his high school teacher who recounts a disastrous rock and roll appearance at the local talent show. A school friend plays us one of Dylan’s first recorded songs. In his own words, Dylan tells us how he became smitten with folk music as the story shifts scenes from the iron range in Minnesota to Greenwich Village in New York City. We meet an amazing cast of characters; Dave Van Ronk, the King of the Greenwich Village folk clubs; Joan Baez, the Queen of the Folk Music world; Allen Ginsberg, America’s beat poet laureate. And most importantly we see and hear the wide range of music that influenced the young Bob Dylan.
We watch as Dylan’s fame and notoriety grows. His skill as a performer matures rapidly and the songs begin to pour out. "Blowin' in the Wind," "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Masters of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," and many more. Part I ends at what seems to be the dawn of a new generation. Dylan, hands intertwined with Pete Seeger, The Freedom Singers and Odetta singing "Blowin' in the Wind" at the closing night at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963.
In Part II, the story turns dark. At 23 Bob Dylan is already a newsworthy phenomenon, capable of filling Carnegie Hall without ever having a hit song on the radio. And with that success come expectations: expectations from the old left to become a political activist, expectations from the media to articulate the concerns of America’s youth. It’s a role in which Dylan is completely uninterested. And Dylan is already on the move, finding a new musical vocabulary to capture the complexity of a seismic cultural shift. He injects a heightened sense of poetry into his writing. He adds electricity to his music -- electricity that now seems inevitable, but then labeled him a sell out and a traitor. At a disastrous concert at the Newport folk festival in 1965, his electrified instruments set the audience in turmoil.
Scorsese delicately balances Dylan’s internal world with sign-post images from the external world. Dylan’s music is the backdrop as the war in Vietnam escalates, the free speech movement in Berkley signals a new youth movement, the nightly news brings home images we would never have dreamed of seeing on our television sets. Scorsese takes the time to let us really see the music unfold in revelatory concert performances.
And now the past catches up to the "present era" that is the starting point for the film. It is 1966. "Desolation Row," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Visions of Johanna" echo against a changing worldwide landscape and resonate in Dylan’s personal world of constant touring and press conferences. By the end of the film, Scorsese has taken us on an emotional, musical and intellectual journey. And it is plainly obvious -- for Dylan and, indeed, for all of us -- that there are some journeys from which there is no direction home.