No Direction Home. It was a weird film with fascinating footage of Dylan very early in his career. However, in some ways it was very unsatisfying and provided little insight into the man, his “process,” or his work. The film does open a small window into the early to mid-Sixties and the social changes that were beginning to take hold of American society.
Dylan, it seems, while being right in the thick of popular musicians who were defining the era, did not really want to play a role in the public sphere. He wanted to write his music, his lyrics and have an audience with which to share them.
The film captures an ambitious young man who is curious about music, who seeks to go out and learn as much as he can and then apply it to his own work. He goes through a process of discovering his own voice as a poet and musician, and then without doing anything that would be considered self-promoting, he proceeds to become very popular and his folk songs acquire a patina of mystical truth that people might grant to the words of a prophet.
Dylan doesn’t seem to care. He appreciates the larger audiences, but he simply moves on musically and thematically. When his fans protest, he is insulted but moves ahead with his ideas anyway. Ultimately, he becomes tired to the point of disgust with others’ definition of him, and the relentless expectations of the media, the fans and the general public. The movie ends with his playing Like a Rolling Stone one final time, but he tells his band to play it “fucking loud” and it’s as if he is shouting at the audience (a member of which calls him “Judas” when he steps on stage because he rarely sings folk or protest songs by that point in his career) to just shut up and listen: he is no prophet, he is a singer and songwriter who simply wants them to listen.
I was struck by his intelligence, but also by the sense that he wasn’t really in tune with other people. He didn’t seem to be very sensitive to those who surrounded him or to care much about them. He was driven by his art. He is funny in the clips as a young man. I mean that he has a sharp wit and a quirky, cynical sense of humor that flashes quickly when an opportunity presents itself. He seems to be disenchanted with the role society thrust upon him, and a little tired – both in the clips as a young man and in the recent interview that pulls the film together. He’s never truly happy or at ease. He’s always under the gaze of fans or a camera as his popularity soars. He has to do press conference after press conference to promote a tour, but he mocks the press and jabs at them instead of responding to even a single question.
The issue of religion or spirituality doesn’t touch the film at all. It’s a pragmatic movie that simply shows a musician who is very talented as he begins his career and takes it to a point where he is one of the most well-known musical performers and songwriters of his generation. It left me a little empty and seeking to learn much more. But I don’t think he’s an enigma on purpose, I think he recognizes that being a popular performer might make others seek to learn and dote on his opinions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his opinions have any significant value. So he doesn’t really open up. The music, he thinks, should speak for itself.