Docs That Rock

Yet Another Dylan Doc

dylanmuseum3I wonder what will happen to the loci of music docs once we lose the Beatles, the Stones and especially Bob Dylan. These legacy artists have been responsible for so much celluloid and remain a constant source of fascination. Will future filmmakers find similar muses from today’s artists?

I’m slightly off topic now so back to Dylan. Despite the two recent Dylan projects (No Direction Home and I’m Not There) filmmaker Joel Gilbert has just released what appears to be another addition to the Dylan doc cannon: Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years: Busy Being Born… Again The film (which had one screening the other night in NYC before going to DVD) covers the years after 1978 when the Jewish-born singer became a born-again Christian and started writing gospel music and opening his all-gospel concerts with fiery sermons. Naturally, the guy who post-Newport had a history of alienating his biggest fans did so again. (As Kurt Loder wrote in Rolling Stone, “Now that Bob Dylan’s had his shots at that old-time religion, perhaps his secular fans may be forgiven for hoping that this, too, shall pass.”) Bob’s gospel phase lasted three albums (and one Grammy win) until 1983ish when he was photographed wearing a prayer shawl at the bar mitzvah of his son in Jerusalem.

The film boasts the first-ever interview with Pastor Bill Dwyer Dylan’s Bible class teacher along with rare photos and exclusive live concert footage from that period. Dylan speaks only in found tape from that era. But there is no original Dylan music or any interviews in the film with true Dylan confidants (everyone aside from the pastor and Jerry Wexler seems to have a glancing relationship with Bob.) And per a tough review in DVD Talk, is excessively long. Jason Bailey has some quality issues common to “unauthorized” music docs:

The film has the aesthetic qualities of a home movie (what with Gilbert’s front-and-center presence and such amateurish touches as visible cameras and tripods during interviews)… Ultimately, Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years shares the same problem as the other Beatles and Dylan unauthorized bio-discs; you can get all the sound-alike recordings you want, and interview all of the peripheral characters you want, but there’s seldom anything enlightening or comprehensive that can be said in a music documentary that has no interviews with the subject and uses none of their music.

And that, in a nutshell, is why music docs are so challenging to make….you get the cooperation and music at the expense of editorial control. And if you don’t make that deal, your film usually gets criticized for not being intimate.

But there’s another layer to this Dylan doc. Bailey (who I don’t know) did some bona fide sleuthing to find out that this disc is actually sloppy seconds from an older doc by Gilbert! He writes:

As I was preparing this review, I did a search in the DVD Talk database for reviews of other unauthorized Dylan docs. As I read Phil Bacharach’s 2006 review of Bob Dylan 1975-1981 Rolling Thunder and the Gospel Years (also directed by Gilbert), many of his criticisms sounded strangely familiar. So I got my hands on the previous disc. And here’s what Gilbert did: He took the final two hours of that four-hour film and repackaged that half of that film as an entirely new one. The bonus featurettes are, also, direct lifts off the 2006 disc. This isn’t merely a case of a double-dip; there is nothing on the packaging or anywhere on this disc’s extensive website indicating that this is recycled material. It is the ultimate in sneering unauthorized exploitation– a rip-off of a rip-off.

Maybe that is how the focus of music docs will remain on Dylan, the Beatles and Stones long after they’re gone: recycling! If you’re still curious about this film, the trailer is below.


November 5, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] Noted: The Creative Recycling of Dylan Docs Variety today sort of catches up to a post I wrote last November: filmmaker Joel Gilbert and his unauthorized Bob Dylan documentaries. It doesn’t mention how […]

    Pingback by Not Noted: The Creative Recycling of Dylan Docs « Docs That Rock | April 21, 2009 | Reply

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