This is part two of my telephone interview with director D.A. Pennebaker, in celebration of the Criterion Collection re-release of his documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 acoustic British tour, Dont (sic) Look Back.
You can check out part one here: Interview: D.A. Pennebaker reflects on Dylan in ‘Dont Look Back’
A few years back, there was another documentary you made, from the outtakes, titled 65 Revisited, and now there’s even more footage in the Criterion version, titled Snapshots From the Tour.
I felt I had been target shooting (for Dont Look Back), and I’d been a little off of the target. Then I went back and shot it again, and got closer. The assumption was that I f***ed up the first time (laughs), and got it straightened out for the second!
When I got there, I was under the impression that Albert wanted a musical film to promote Dylan’s concerts, or records, or whatever he was doing, and this would be kind of a music film. So I brought along Bob Van Dyke, he was our sound guy … Any music we did, he was in charge. He recorded every concert from beginning to end. But after less than a week, going around with Bob, I began to get a sense the film I wanted to make was not a musical film, but about this guy who might be a poet, and he, himself, was trying to figure out if he was a poet. The way he used language was just amazing sometimes. I kept filming dialogue with just people on the street. So I was making a film about Dylan as a persona, rather than Dylan as the organ grinder.
What we did was to put together a film (65 Revisited) where he sings complete songs, and when I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh my god. I did make a mistake (the first time)!’ The poetry is really in the songs, not in the conversations. People who saw the early film and said, ‘Dylan is kind of a s***,’ with the new one they said, ‘God, he’s just lovely.’
I expect everything I shot to be put out on some sort of format eventually. Whether we put that out in a film format as we know it, or in some format that hasn’t been discovered yet, I don’t know.
The opening sequence of Dylan holding cue cards while “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is playing has been copied and parodied many times…
It was a good idea, and it was a very “home movie” idea. It was Dylan’s idea. In a bar, he asked me, and I said I thought it was terrific. We took a long hundreds of shirt cardboards on the trip, and we sat down with Donovan and Joan (Baez), and just did different signs. I did some too, but I can’t remember which ones I did.
Things must have been a bit different on the 1966 tour, where the rare documentary Eat the Document was filmed …
It was a different kind of film. He said, “You’ve got your film, and now you’re gonna film, and I’m gonna direct.” But the problem was neither of us had the least idea of how to direct it. We kept stumbling around, and we kept shooting things, but it had to be put together. Editing was very important in this type of film. It has to be theatrical, it can’t be explorative … It was Dylan’s film, and I didn’t want to grab it away from him, or struggle with him. That was the deal we made. It was a handshake deal. And he didn’t know what to do with it. It didn’t go anywhere, until (Martin) Scorsese got hold of it and put it together (for No Direction Home). Eventually, (I think) it will all appear, and some of it is extraordinary.
He was on stage with the whole band there … You’d normally film it from a distance … I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be on stage with them, because he was having a great time and jumping around out on that stage …
I made a (special) lens that was extremely wide angle, and it flared at the edge, which I thought was kind of beautiful. I just got up on stage, and he didn’t know I was gonna do it. So when he came out on stage, there I was, and he really cracked up. And we filmed the whole show, with me between everybody, filming!
Last year, we spoke about your documentary, Unlocking the Cage, about the legal rights of animals. Can you give us an update?
(Hesitatingly) It’s finished. That is, HBO has accepted it as, and at the end we have what was intended, which is our lawyer, and the Attorney General’s office, agreed to let the two chimpanzees, who were the subject of the court scene, move to a place in Florida, where they could run free … Most of the chimps were sent to a place called ‘Save the Chimps’ … If (these) chimps go there, we’d like to be able to actually see them and film them, finally getting out of a cage. So the film sits there, waiting, like a cobbled egg.
Well, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you again, and thank you for your time.
I really appreciated anyone who is interested not just in the film, but in Dylan, and why he survives after 50 years.
More on the new, exclusive, supplemental material can be found here.
- Bob Dylan in ‘Dont Look Back: The Criterion Collection,’ D. A. Pennebaker (Director)
- Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray / 2DVD
Of the dozens of Dylan Internet sites … Expecting Rain … and the atombash.com Bob Dylan blog by Harold Lepidus are the best places for up-to-the-minute Dylan news – David Kinney, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.”(Simon & Schuster, 2014)
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