It shouldn’t be any secret that Bob Dylan is one of my all-time favourite musicians. Inevitably I’ve already watched D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back years ago and only found myself appreciating his music all the more, but he wasn’t merely just a fantastic singer and songwriter. If anything, No Direction Home only reaffirms the light in which I’ve always seen Bob Dylan as over the years of great music that he has produced, he was a poet. And yet from all the highs and lows his career has faced, there was always something more about Dylan himself that makes him a fascinating enough case study, because like all the best artists he refuses to stop: always taking a new direction just as the film’s title would say, taking itself from a lyric from one of Dylan’s very best songs: “How does it feel, to be on your own, with no direction home? A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” And maybe it’s that feeling of freedom that only granted Bob Dylan to express himself so powerfully without losing that touch of grace in his music.
Chronicling Bob Dylan’s life as America as a folk singer, to his eventual shift towards rock music, No Direction Home isn’t so much a film focused on Dylan’s journey but the growth of America within a short period of time – with Dylan being a witness as he is changing history through his own music. But this shift within sound also had proved itself controversial for Dylan because of how fans already have come to know him over the years as a folk artist, even though it would have eventually paved the way for what would later become some of Dylan’s most notable songs (including the one where the film takes its title, “Like a Rolling Stone”). But over the years, he has always remained a fascinating figure – which is what I appreciate director Martin Scorsese for being able to show here. We weren’t getting a glorified glimpse at Dylan and his work, we are watching Dylan as the man he was.
Being a fan of Bob Dylan, it’s easy for me to say that the music is absolutely fantastic, for his lyricism has always been so meaningful for its own era and generations to come. But nevertheless it was still easy to see why he is such a polarizing figure and Martin Scorsese touches upon what has built up to such a complicated man in Bob Dylan. Interviews that are conducted within the film range from Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, allowing Scorsese to give his own viewers a gist of the ambivalence towards Dylan himself. For it was already well-known that a song like “Blowin’ in the Wind” had become a favourite amongst protest groups, eventually cementing Dylan as a conscience for Young America at the time – he would already have found himself becoming the subject of controversy. Scorsese presents Dylan’s own trials as a rise and fall, for he rejected the “folk revival” scene of the period, among many reasons he was the voice of many generations to come.
The moment we see interviews from Bob Dylan himself, I’ve come to admire the man even more for who he was. How exactly has the shift between music styles treated Dylan over the years, and what could it have put on Dylan himself? He was overwhelmed by the influence that he has laid upon America at the time, because there was a crowd that saw him as a hero just as there was another that detested what his music had done for his country. This movie isn’t simply about Bob Dylan’s own growth as an artist, but how he was trying to speak for generations to come. He didn’t conform to a specific ideology, for his influence on the public’s political struggles was not a role that he would have wanted. We already know Bob Dylan’s own song, “The Times, They Are A-Changin'” and how it spoke to America’s own growth during the time, only going to show how much of a complicated genius the man was. But as Dylan himself fired back at interviews, it was clear he was aware of his own influence on the nation – but maybe there was another message that he intended to get across.
Although how exactly do I describe what it is that Bob Dylan’s music has done for me? To me he was a poet, one of the very best of his own kind. His live performance of “Mr. Tambourine Man” as shown here would only have gone on to solidify it as one of my favourite songs of his own. But these live performances as shown here don’t only give the audience reminders as to why his music has left the great impact that it has done for the time, but it also shows the public’s need to hold him as a voice defining where they had gone from one point onward. Bob Dylan knew already that he had an overwhelming amount of weight to be carried on his shoulders because of what people had perceived him to be. The music has been nothing short of wonderful, and at the same time we recognized a man who was trying to tell stories to the people in a way that they were unfamiliar with, so much so to the point the narrow-minded had only become revolted with said shift.
My love of Bob Dylan has only grown further from there onward, but even as I listen to his music, it isn’t simply a catchy or calming beat that I’m hearing. It’s a voice that’s speaking out about the sort of society which is surrounding him, and in No Direction Home, it was only fitting that Martin Scorsese had given us a glimpse at how complicated of a genius he was. But considering how much he defied during the time, and the lengths to which his lyricism has spoken for, it was easy to see why he was nothing short of one of the most influential artists of the time, let alone American culture. And behind the poetic qualities of his songs, we saw a man who was exactly what his song “Like a Rolling Stone” had described for us. He wasn’t a man who compromised, leaving him on his own. But just as the song has asked us, “How does it feel, to be on your own with no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Produced by Susan Lacy, Jeff Rosen, Martin Scorsese, Nigel Sinclair, Anthony Wall
Featuring Bob Dylan
Release Year: 2005
Running Time: 208 minutes