On September 6, 1967, a documentary titled Don’t Look Back opened at an old ramshackle theater in San Francisco. It was hard to imagine why this old pornographic movie theater had a line of people extending out the door and around the corner, but once you found out it was about Bob Dylan, it was no surprise at all. The September 6th release was the first large-scale screening of the film that documented Bob Dylan and company’s whirlwind 1965 European tour. Joining him on tour were the likes of artists like Joan Baez, Donovan, and Allen Ginsberg, along with the standard parade of press, crew, police, fans, and everything else that came to epitomize Rock n’ Roll in the 1960s.
Bob Dylan, in particular, was an iconic figure in his own right. He had risen to fame in the early-60’s folk scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village, developing his own songwriting skills and capturing fans around the world with songs like Blowin’ in the Wind, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and The Times They Are A-Changin,’ his so-called early “protest era” catalogue. Then in 1965, tired of singing songs by himself, Dylan had a career-changing year with the albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, in which he plugged in an electric guitar and had a rock n’ roll band back him while he sang his Americana-inspired anthems. Perhaps his most famous song, Like a Rolling Stone, came out of this era, immortalized by Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he played the song on electric guitar and was booed and jeered all throughout the performance, sparking the famous “Electric Dylan” controversy.
Following his newfound sound, Dylan took off on tour to England, only this time his entourage included filmmaker DA Pennebaker (John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Sweet Toronto, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). Dylan and Pennebaker had worked together a couple of years earlier on the music video for Subterranean Homesick Blues, and the filmmaker had been recruited by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, who convinced him to document the tour with some help from Dylan’s soon-to-be-wife Sara Lownds. What followed was an ensuing tour of energy, madness, and frankly danger. Many of Dylan’s fans felt betrayed that he had gone so “mainstream” by plugging in an electric guitar and wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket. Dylan, however, was right at home. He knew the direction he wanted to take his music, and he knew what lengths he could achieve. This film is truly a documentary of Rock n’ Roll in its prime. The trailer is available for viewing here on MADE, but if you get a chance to sit down and watch this one all the way through (it’s only 90 minutes!), definitely take it upon yourself to do so…you won’t regret it!