Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
A lucid dream of a bygone tour
By Casey Lee
Of the many concerts of Bob Dylan, one that is not often spoken or remembered as fondly as his sold-out tours is his Rolling Thunder Revue. Between October 1975 and May 1976, Bob Dylan embarked on a two-legged tour that was not held to pack massive stadiums and halls, but for him to appear (sometimes unexpectedly) in quieter and smaller venues to have more intimate moments with his adoring fans. Accompanying him were several of his contemporaries and close friends, who travelled together as a revue. Unlike a traditional revue and his protest songs, the Rolling Thunder Revue was also a soul-searching tour for Dylan, following his mainstream fame and success.
Although the tour itself has been told by Dylan himself in the rare Renaldo and Clara, this Bob Dylan story has new narrators (in this telling by Martin Scorsese); a documentary filmmaker who was hired to follow the tour and its organising promoter. With recovered footage, aging subjects, and nonlinear editing, Martin Scorsese tries to construct a little revisionist history of what happened during the tour.
However, attempting to define Rolling Thunder Revue by its cinematic or documentary conventions would take away from the experience, as it swims between a concert film, a mockumentary, and a collage of never-seen-before footage of the tour. Granted that Rolling Thunder Revue's intent and design may not be apparent without some required viewing of Martin Scorsese's earlier works and knowledge of where the tour stands in Dylan's career. Scorsese plays with this subject matter like an experimental cinematic experience.
In its own way, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese isn't so much about stating fact from fiction, but getting closer to the nature of that mystified tour in Dylan's career. Perhaps in this telling, it is more apt in capturing an ephemeral an artist as Dylan, because who can truly remember something that happened 40 years ago if it meant nothing in the end?