Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't Look Back (DA Pennebaker, 1967)

Group 2 Responses (400 word minimum). Focus on themes, or specific scene shots, or some other aspect of the film or its social, cultural, musical context. Due by the end of Tuesday.

Group 1 comments (200 word minimum): Supply a thoughtful comment that expands upon one (or several) of Group 1 responses.


  1. D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film, “Don’t Look Back,” covers Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour of the United Kingdom. I found the documentary to be a little on the slow side compared to other documentaries we have watched in this class. I won’t deny Bob Dylan’s cultural relevance to the time; when this documentary was filmed our country was in the middle of the civil rights movement, and it was artists like Bob Dylan that paved the way with cultural and relevant music. However, I felt that this documentary was just boring, but there were a few things I was able to take away from it. To be honest, half the time I was fighting off sleep just to get through it.

    If I had to pick a favorite scene it would have to be the one towards the end of the film, when Bob Dylan gets into an altercation with someone over something. The scene takes place in Bob Dylan’s hotel room, with many people having a good time. In a very cliché manner, the party goers hush, and everyone in the room focuses in on Bob Dylan and the guy at the peak of the argument. Bob Dylan says, “You are whatever you say you are,” to which the guy belligerently replies, “I’m nothing.” Bob Dylan finishes with “ I believe you,” speaking these words sarcastically, but with true sincerity. Straight comedy if you ask me.

    One of the last scenes of the film was something that I really enjoyed and felt was very well done. It’s the last moments of Bob Dylan’s last concert scene in the film, and as he is on stage, the camera starts to zoom out on Bob Dylan with the spot light focused right on him. This creates a simple silhouette, projecting it onto the floor. For some reason, I found this to be a really powerful statement: it made him look just like any other man. It was a blank canvas, for anyone to fill. Think about it, Bob Dylan is not the best looking man, or the most talented guitarist, and I think we could all agree that he sounds stuffed up, but what he had to say, and how he said it, gave him the way to talk to an entire generation. But it could have been anyone, because there were a lot of things going on back then, and plenty of ways to express them; I feel that the shadow is a metaphor for that.

    In conclusion, I am glad that I was able to find some enjoyable things from this film, but over all I just felt let down. Watching something about musicians should be exciting, that was something I felt that this film lacked. A little drug use could go along way. But if someone ever asks, “How does it feel to watch ‘Don’t Look Back,’” I’ll know how to reply.

  2. Don’t Look Back is a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker, in “cinema verite” style. The documentary covers Bob Dylans British tour in 1965. I don’t have much experience with cinema verite but I can tell this film is it in every sense. Its definitely not the typical rocumentary that I’ve been exposed too, to start off there is a fairly small amount of concert footage relative to random event and interview footage. I didn’t find the movie particularly interesting so I might have some biased towards it but on the whole this seems like a hugely influential movie, covering one of the most influential artists and in one of the most tumultuous and influential periods of the last century.

    The beginning of the movie starts with a Dylan song in the background and a cue-card scene depicting the words of the song. This is a interesting scene allowing the viewers to immerse themselves in his song and begin to make connections with the film. The “fly on the wall, cinema verite” approach came off very effectively throughout the film letting veiwers make there own assumptions about Dylan as a huge star/human being. Bob Dylan’s “essence“( im having a hard time finding the right words to describe “it”) is questioned and challenged a couple of candid interviews, one with a random fan backstage and the other with a Time magazine reporter. The majority of the clips that Pennebaker use are from hotels, backstage green rooms, or behind the curtain shots, all of them very personal. At times it feels like your in the room with Bob and the entourage on that’s on tour with him. At one point Pennebaker even shows a clip of Bob Dylan working on a song, these close ups help give the viewer a sense of how he goes about his day and his life.

    My favorite scene of the film was Bob Dylan staring into a shop window longingly at a electric guitar; talking to people about who had done his covers electrically. You could definitely feel Dylan getting tired with his current state throughout the film and considering the movie was released in 1967, (After Dylan had gone electric) I thought this was a great cut used by D.A. Pennebaker. On the whole this movie was interesting merely for the look at Bob Dylan in his heyday and what that translated for me was somewhat of cocky arrogant person who wants things his way and a drawn out movie that I might watch again.

  3. Response to posts…
    Undeniably, Bob Dylan holds the marker as one of the most influential singer/songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s. I think this documentary, in its cinema verite format, brought a sense of closeness to Bob that his audience would otherwise probably never get to feel. With the interviews that were in this documentary, I felt like he was being himself to the point that unless you really knew him you’d swear he was being a condescending celebrity. I think that in all reality he was such an artistic genius that he mastered the concepts of songwriting, communication, and poetry; and with that he isolated himself from the herd. Actually, I found him to be very similar to Townes, in that his “don’t know and don’t care” attitude was really a façade. I think he did care, very much; which allowed him to express himself with such passion. I have always considered Bob Dylan more of a lyricist than a musician. His witty, sharp-tongued, quick responses became apparent during interviews with various journalists as well as during the altercation with the party-goers. This film broke down the confusing between conceitedness and extravagance by using this cinema verite; for me.
    In response to Will’s favorite scene, I too enjoyed that foreshadowing. I felt that the ending was perfect for the theme and style of the documentary. To me, it ended with Dylan contemplating his newly dubbed title of an anarchist; and a Cheshire grin crept across his face. As if to say, “Don’t look back” or there’s no turning back now. It was very interesting to learn that very shortly after this tour he went electric; a highly controversial move into the “dark side” of rock and roll. Through cinema verite, this documentary captured his thought process.

  4. this is a response to Will:

    I completely agree with you on the film being a true representation of "cinema verite". Pennebaker most definitely chose to edit the film in a manner that was extremely personal. It truly felt as if the viewer was on tour hanging out with Bob Dylan and his companions. Pennebaker seemed to capture this "fly on the wall" observing everyday life of events extremely well. I wonder, though, if Pennebaker purposefully seemed to choose scenes that represented "boring" everyday life or if those scenes were truly the most exciting captured. In the same regard, Bob Dylan is an aware intelligent songwriter. It makes sense to me that a film documenting his tour would reflect the same wavelenght of vibration. Bob Dylan seemed to be shown in a light that wanted to challenge people and their beliefs about who they believed themselves to be. These discussion could be the inner conflict he was facing in his own life.

    In correlation, I really like the irony of the electric guitar scene as well. I wonder if the director knew the significnace of that moment while filming. I sensed, as well, Bob Dylan's fustration with the acoustic folk singer persona while peering through the window at the forbidden elcetric world. Again, I wonder if that is why he seemed so confrontational with everyone as the film progressed. Was he battling inner conflict of who he wanted to be represented as? The film seemed to capture him getting ready to break out of the folk music bondage.

  5. In response…
    I also felt that Don’t Look Back was a bit slow; had it not been for the fact that I found myself completely intrigued by Bob Dylan’s personality I would have been bored out of my mind. Before watching Don’t Look Back I didn’t really know squat about Bob Dylan other than his music. For some strange reason I was surprised to see that he was so witty and provocative which was interesting enough for me to stay awake. I really didn’t become engaged in the film until the scene with the Times life reporter where we really got to see Dylan’s wit at its best. Dylan broke that reporter down so bad that by the time the botched interview was done he looked like someone had stabbed him in his soul… and it was glorious!! I also found the scene in the hotel room where he and Donavon play for each other confusing and intriguing all at the same time. I couldn’t really figure if they had mutual respect between them or hated each other. The dynamics of that whole awkward situation seemed to me like a very polite way to say F**k you to Donavon. At the end of the day Dylan’s edgy personality is the only thing that made this interesting to me.

  6. In the documentary “Don’t Look Back: Bob Dylan,” cameras follow Bob Dylan’s solo acoustic tour across England in 1965. During this time Bob Dylan was known as a folk singer, even though he didn’t like to think of himself that way, who really started being one of the first singers to write all their own songs. This was the time right before he went electric. The style that was used was more cinema vérité than the traditional way of shooting a documentary. Virtually absent are the standard documentary conventions of archival or interview footage. I was also surprised that there was little footage of the concerts he put on. It wasn’t a concert film; it was more of a behind the scenes look at his touring lifestyle. The camera really tries to be like a fly on the wall to capture moments in their most authenticity. The most memorable moments of the film for me were watching Dylan’s interactions with the press and interviewers. He came off like he did not want to become involved with talking to the press or giving interviews. He also came off to me as very antagonistic and argumentative. I watched Dylan being revealed as an immature, ego-inflated, even cruel individual, who seems entirely consumed with appearing to be clever and also very difficult to understand at the same time. "I know more about what you do just by looking at you than you'll ever be able to know about me," Dylan tells a Time Magazine reporter in one especially unflattering scene. At the end of the movie when he is leaving England his manager shows him a newspaper which labeled him an anarchist. My favorite moments were watching Dylan in his hotel rooms hanging out with his friends goofing off on the guitar and pianos, acting care free about life. I most enjoyed the scene which included Joan Baez as the two of them sat in his hotel room and played a couple of Hank Williams songs together because I could feel real raw emotions coming out of their playing and it was really beautifully played. To me this documentary was more about Bob Dylan the man more than it was about Bob Dylan the folk singer. I enjoyed it nonetheless though.

  7. “Don’t Look Back” is right. It seemed like D. A. Pennebaker had a camera on his lapel. The way he captured Bob Dylan’s European tour in 1965 was totally cinema verte. I agree with everyone about that aspect. He seemed to be a fly on the wall exactly how the style should be in this type of film. Even the drunk people in the film did not play to the camera and I thought that was amazing. I also agree with Jason, that Bob Dylan was pretty boring. I mean seriously who threw the glass out the window! This documentary made it seem that Bob Dylan did not have a very exciting time on this tour. All it showed was a glimpse of his show and then pretty much him hanging out in his hotel room and back stage. I think there could have been other things shown that would have made this documentary easier to sit through, instead of making you want to fall asleep… not that I did. All in all Bob Dylan seemed to have a lot of tour stops, but all we really go to see was how boring it was back in those days to be a musician on tour.

  8. The documentary film, "Don't Look Back", is an intriguing story about Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour through the United Kingdom. The film is intriguing in the sense of perspective. An interesting style choice was used in the making of this film call cinéma vérité. Before seeing this film, I had never experienced "truthful cinema". Though the style choice took away from how engaging the film could have been, I really appreciate how D. A. Pennebaker produced this documentary because it allows you to develop your own idea of who Bob Dylan was during that time.

    During the time when this film was made, Bob Dylan was well on his way becoming a huge American icon. His sound isn't the most innovative, which is probably why he was considered a folk singer, though he never claimed the title. However, he does have the unique ability to connect with people with bold and powerful lyrics. These lyrics packed houses full of fans for what could be considered relatively short and overpriced shows. At one point in the film, you see the manager of one of the venues about to open the doors to allow fans to come in. This scene very easily shows you just how much he meant to his fans. People herded in like cattle as soon as a single door opened for their chance to experience his message, his style, his persona, etc. for only about an hour.

    For the most part, this film focuses more on Bob Dylan as a person as opposed to the actual concerts within the tour. As the film progressed, I concluded that he is a pioneer when it comes to establishing a connection with a wide variety of people who valued his every word. Scenes of him in the various green rooms with plenty of people coming and going also show how influential he was. Other scenes, however, such as the scene with the interviewer from Time magazine, led me down a path wondering how anyone could listen to this kid. You could tell he was still in some ways at child at heart. Combative tones laced his sharp, argumentative retorts that at times seemed quite irrational and almost annoying. To me, he still had that teenage-like rebellious attitude about him closely resembling a punk. It wasn't until I watched most of the film again that I realized that this very demeanor is huge factor in his success.

  9. In response...

    I liked this film on Bob Dylan. We all know about Bob Dylan. A singer, songwriter, poet, and painter. He has been a HUGE figure in music for five decades. Much of his more well known work dates from the 1960s. I felt that it wasn't as "swift" shall we say... It seemed a little bit "slow". I believe it could have went a lot better than it did. Overall, I did like the film. I loved how the cameras followed Dylan's tour through England. Due to the film moving somewhat slow I found enjoyable parts few and far in between, but overall it was informative enough to get the job done. The fact that there were more behind the scenes footage than actual in concert footage surprised me. Dylan's personality is very "interesting" which kept the film together.
    Overall, the film was good and had lots of good qualities and bad qualities.