No Direction Home

Starting with the loud and colourful concert footage of Bob Dylan singing Like a Rolling Stone, capturing the artist as he is popularly known and recognised by the world, the film suddenly cuts as the song is crescendoing to the almost silent, black and white images of leafless trees in winter. Each of these black and white shots has a lower contrast than the last, washing the screen with more grey as they slowly fade from one into the other appearing to move further away from the trees each time. This sudden change in image, sound and pace appears to be commented on by Dylan’s voice over about making time seem to stand still and finishes with the fading up of Drifting Too Far From the Shore.

This song transitions the audience through a cut to a shot of a black and white home, presumably Dylan’s childhood home, and as we slowly track in the title ‘Many Years Earlier’ fades in quickly and eventually fades away again as Dylan’s voice refers to the house we are presumably looking at. As he talks about finding a turntable as a child we see a photo of the younger Dylan, tracking in on his face. This is followed by some footage that I think is found or shot to appear as if it is from the same era as Dylan’s childhood. It is a sweeping black and white close up of a record spinning on turntable with a very shallow depth of field, a very romantic image. After this we track in on another image of Dylan slightly older, talking about Drifting Too Far From the Shore. The song stops Dylan’s voice over and fades up again, perhaps we are hearing Dylan’s first engagement with music.

Dylan continues talking about this moment but we cut to the first of the recorded interview footage, now in colour but it might only be lit by a single soft key light with some light on the background to create some definition of Dylan’s head. He talks about this record making him feel like he was “somebody else” and not part of his family. This first minute and a half of the introduction has already set up that we are going back to Dylan’s musical origins. We might be travelling the path from the cold, black and white, country music world that he grew up into the richly dynamic musician we know.

We then jump from the family home to the town that he grew up in. Big band music plays as we see black and white footage of a busy main street with a banner stretched across it announcing ‘See the Iron Mines: 1 Mile North’. And we are taken presumably to the mines and shown a panning shot of a desolate land while slow jazz music plays. From here we see the environment of working life around Dylan. Black and white found footage of the mine and miners plays intersperse with Dylan’s interview talking about the inability to be a rebel because of the cold weather, the weather that “equalises everything very quickly”. Here Dylan talks about not having an ideology or idea to rebel against, but this is the moment that we transition to his father’s electrical store. Dylan talks about his first job, working at the store, sweeping the floors, and we cut to his interview to watch him say that here he was “supposed to learn the discipline of hard work or something, and the merits of employment”. The interviews literally put a spotlight on Dylan, a soft one, but he is shadowy and we can’t see anything that is in the background.

I believe that this is setting up what the key conflict will be in the documentary, Dylan’s dreams, mentality and artistry against the physical working-class world of family home. This is set up by the comments that Dylan says, the soundtrack to these shots and the contrast between black and white (or grey and grey) of Dylan’s childhood and colour of his adult self.

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