Don't Look Back

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Don't Look Back

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D.A. Pennebaker's newly reissued 1967 documentary Don't Look Back captures a freakishly young, healthy, vibrant Bob Dylan as he tours Great Britain during a formative period in his career. Dylan is clearly at a turning point in both his private and professional life, but Don't Look Back does him justice by not dwelling on his growing discontent, instead showing it through a series of gestures and off-hand remarks. One shot of Dylan gazing longingly into the window of a shop specializing in ridiculously expensive electric guitars conveys pretty much everything there is to be said about the singer's growing attraction to ragged, plugged-in rock 'n' roll. Instead, Pennebaker's film focuses on what could be considered Dylan's private life, which seems almost as self-conscious and mannered as his public persona. Like Muhammad Ali in When We Were Kings, Don't Look Back portrays Dylan as an extremely gifted bullshit artist, a man who talks first and thinks later, and lets his words flow in long, lyrical tangents. But like Ali in Kings, Dylan is such a gifted, nimble speaker that even when he's talking out of his ass or abusing dippy journalists and weak-willed hangers-on, he's still mesmerizing to watch, even if his demeanor betrays an essential naiveté lurking behind his mask of jaded, existential cynicism. Dylan is given a fascinating supporting cast, particularly in the form of his clueless musical peer/would-be competitor Donovan and his bespectacled bulldog of a manager, Albert Grossman. The film's only real weakness is its surprising lack of music: Only a handful of Dylan songs are heard in the film, and none of them are heard in their entirety. But it hardly matters, since everything else here is so strong. Don't Look Back is a spellbinding portrayal of a gifted artist at the peak of his creative brilliance.

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