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Rolling Thunder Revue

Rolling Thunder Revue,

just a little summer inspiration

“ This is an immersive experience, like being plunged back into the 70s. There is passion there. No matter how chaotic or bleary things get, no one is in any doubt that the music counts.” (The Guardian, June 11, 2019)

Yes, very much so. I can’t but totally agree to that short summary of the Guardian review of Rolling Thunder Revue, a new Netflix release by Martin Scorsese, who after “No Direction Home”, his first film about Bob Dylan, gets back to the genius musician and poet of many faces and a  more-than-half- a-century massive impact he has made on music, literature and society. I couldn’t believe my eyes when his black “unidentified” coach landed outside the gym-size Hala Vodova in Brno in April 2018. Being one of the generation born in communist Czechoslovakia who could have hardly hoped for anything like this to happen, I thought I was dreaming. Oh gosh, pinch me somebody! And when he started to play I started to realize this was real and trembled throughout the night and all the way  back to Prague along the D1.

Rolling Thunder Revue is not trully a documentary as it combines the myth and the truth, the fact and fiction the way that makes the viewer part of everything no matter what the reality is. Wow, Sharon Stone was on the tour, so beautiful, so young! That’s just one of the numerous myths created by Scorsese presented as fact. What you do know for sure while watching, though, is you are there with him and his great company. With or without Sharon you are in 1975 on Bob Dylan’s tour to The United States and Canada, and not exactly in 25,000-seat halls, but in small venues such as the Providence Civic Centre, Plymouth Memorial Hall or even the Tuscarora Indian Reservation (the tour was named after the Indian chief and medicine man Rolling Thunder), where flyers are handed out randomly to passers-by just before the concert.

After a seven-year break Dylan had taken from touring following his motorbike accident in 1966, he set out on a tour in 1974, the same year in which he made the break-up with his wife Sara public and released Blood on the Tracks, an album full of love and bitterness, marked by some critics one of the truest and best, always at the top of my playlist. The Rolling Thunder Revue that followed the next year bringing back on stage about a hundred folk icons from the Village of the sixties comes as a revival, self-reinvention, search for “what there is next for me” yet obviously burdened with the painful past. Bob appears with make-up on his face suggesting that "it is highly unlikely that anybody not wearing a mask will tell you the truth".  And he keeps singing like he was in trance, his eyes fixed on nowhere as if he was saying “It does not matter who I am or where I am but here’s the gift  of creativity I had received and it has no beginning or end”. His rendering is shamanic but with Scorsese’s perspective of those times including the audiences, political figures, Ginsberg's poetry, people’s backstage  stories and conversations  also  evokes sort of modern commedia dell’Arte. Dylan’s album Desire was released during the tour and featured the songs like "Hurricane", a showcase for Dylan’s engagement in civil rights in favour of the black boxer “Hurricane” Carter accused of murder, and "Sara" considered the most autobiographically naked song about worshipping his wife and later estrangement from her, about something one would like to hold forever and yet he already knows he must let go for the sake of everybody's salvation.

Rolling Thunder Revue presents nearly two and a half hours of spectacular outburst of emotions, ideas and primarily music arising from the 60s and 70s, the two decades considered by many the pinnacle of pop music, an incredible feast of creativity possible only with an unusual scope of outer and inner freedom, with Bob Dylan standing out as a timeless phenomenon. "Life is about creating yourself", says the old Dylan on camera. And he has created himself really great thriving on the spirit and atmosphere so well captured by Scorsese, who managed to mix precious archive material with his own fantasy into such a touchy and impressive experience. This is most likely what makes this film so fascinating, although Bob Dylan in his own words "wasn't even born at the time of Rolling Thunder Revue" and "nothing has remained from this show, just ashes."


Zora Procházková

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