Martin Scorsese has long held a passion for music, and he regularly infuses his films’ soundtracks with a collection of rock-oriented songs to punch up the more dramatic moments in his work. Who, for one, can forget the sound of Sid Vicious singing over the closing credits of Goodfellas, or ignore the sound of Eric Clapton serenading over The Color of Money. But he has often gone one further to provide iconic music documentaries too.
The Last Waltz remains one of the most astonishing examples of rock cinema put to celluloid, showcasing career-best performances from Van Morrison, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. It offered viewers the chance to celebrate the closing of one era, at a time when the decade was becoming more cynical and commercial. However, there is perhaps one more film that deserves its limelight, the brilliant Rolling Thunder Revue, featuring Bob Dylan at his peak. Despite the other classic titles currently available, nothing comes close to Marty’s depiction of Bob.
“Once we had Rolling Thunder constructed, [editor] David Tedeschi and I looked at it, and I said, ‘It’s conventional,’” said Scorsese of the production. “‘It’s just a film about a group of people who go on the road and they sing some songs. I’m going to have to start all over.’ We have to go with the music, maybe, go with the spirit of the commedia dell’arte. And then the words started to come in about possibly people who weren’t there, being there. [Laughs] That’s interesting. That’s a challenge, as they say. Let’s pursue that.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, the director employed Sharon Stone as Dylan’s fictional girlfriend, even doctoring pictures of them together. That wasn’t the end of it either, Martin von Haselberg is cast in the role of the filmmaker Steven van Dorp, while Michael Murphy is given the role of fictional Michigan congressman Jack Tanner and Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos as a concert promoter.
“Let’s say Sharon Stone represents certain things,” Scorsese said. “What about the businessman, the marketing man? And that’s [the head of Paramount] Jim Gianopulos…So why don’t we not stop there? What about the filmmaker? Great. And he had to be taken advantage of. [Laughs] He possesses the performers, he wants to be them. It’s like us, making this… we love the music and the performers so much that the only thing we can do is photograph them and edit it, right? And we wanna be them. And no matter what, we’re left wanting more.”
Scorsese clearly loves Bob Dylan, as the next three films focus on the songwriters enduring legacy. This picture focuses on a part of the songwriter’s great journey, as Scorsese presents a guitarist undergoing a creative rebirth in a new and more cynical decade. The feature exhibits Dylan in 1975, as he is preparing himself for the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The documentary is certainly the most idiosyncratic to appear on this list, as the film holds re-enactments with actors filling in the missing spaces.
If it sounds more like Todd Haynes than Michael Apted, then you’re not wrong, but the work is no less organised than the works that went before it. Indeed, it reads like a love letter from one committed artist to another, as the film details the creative process of the one songwriter The Beatles would concede as their superior.
Watch Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix now.