Dont Look Back (1967)

dont look back poster 1967 movie bob dylan
9.0 Overall Score

Classic Dylan


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Dont Look Back

Studio:  Leacock-Pennebaker

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  May 17, 1967 (San Francisco)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

dont look back bob dylan signs subterranean homesick blues

Often imitated…never matched

Bob Dylan is exploding on the folk scene.  In 1965, he goes on a tour of England just as he is peaking in the United Kingdom.  With visits from celebrities like Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez, Donavan, and Alan Price, Dylan is performing in locations like the Royal Albert Hall and meeting with the Times writers for interviews on his perspective…the times they are a changing.

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Dont Look Back (sometimes called Bob Dylan:  Dont Look Back) is a musical documentary.  The film covers Dylan’s first London tour from April 30, 1965-May 10, 1965.  It was selected for preservation in the Nation Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1998.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #786).

Bob Dylan rose as voice of the youth.  Despite this, he also got a lot of attention from the “adult” population that recognized that Dylan’s writings were also much more constructed and often told a message.  I love Bob Dylan, and Dont Look Back is classic Dylan…the good and the bad.

dont look back bob dylan terry ellis conversation

Yeah…I can talk circles around people…but it isn’t always good

The movie largely follows Dylan around from location to location and it is interesting to see how people are interacting with him at this point in his career.  He is already largely recognizable and earning big crowds, and as one person stated, he is almost what the Beatles evolved into with a different skillset and musical style.  He meets his young fans, but he also meets older fans that recognize that he is something unique and different than what was being offered at the time.

Dylan himself comes off both as intelligent and arrogant.  While he is clearly a smart guy, his method of “debate” feels kind of childish.  He likes to create a wall with the person who is interviewing him and then saying that they’ll never understand him…then tears them down for not understanding him.  It happens a few times and this roundabout way of “debating” doesn’t really feel like a debate or even a discussion on Dylan’s part.  He’s talking at the people instead of talking with the people…though he’d accuse the interviewer of doing the same thing.

dont look back bob dylan royal albert hall

That’s right…I’m in the Royal Albert Hall singing folk songs

The movie is listed as a style of cinema vérité.  It feels very in the moment and unplanned which makes it feel very natural.  The shots aren’t set and they are very organic.  This is combined with performances and things like the classic opening number with Dylan’s signs as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” plays…it is experimental for the time and helped affect how other music movies were made.

Bob Dylan was not a fan of the movie.  He didn’t make anything from it (it is interesting to see how some of the deals of the actual tour where he did make money were negotiated).  I do wonder if he looks back on how he interacted and admits that he didn’t come off as smart as he hoped to…or at least could have.  It is a great snapshot of the time and an artist and definitely worth seeking out.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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