The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival Movie Review
Lerner's film is a no-frills document of Dylan in full performance, chronicling a tale of an artist growing up and away from his folk base, leaving the idealistic folkies in the dust. It also charts an odyssey from songs of innocence to songs of experience.
1963: The naïve songwriter is introduced as "a young man who grew out of a need." The rube Dylan performs shyly, asks to borrow a pick, and has problems tuning his guitar. Nevertheless, the sharp-edged brilliance of his lyrics and his cutting vocals burn through the pretense with "Only a Pawn in Their Game." As Dylan sings, the audience stares in open-mouthed awe; when he appears at the end of the festival to sing "Blowin' in the Wind" it is a coronation. Peter Yarrow, master of ceremonies and comic relief for the three Dylan Newports, remarks, "I would like to say that he has his finger on the pulse of our generation."
1964: A black-garbed Dylan has abandoned his North Country charm and emerges as a bemused trickster. When Pete Seeger introduces "Bobby" and Dylan finally bounds out on stage, he cracks "I think you have the wrong man." Dylan is a now superstar and looks out of place in this early-'60s folk scene. "Bobby" romps through a duet with Joan Baez on "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" like a cynical tourist. He concludes with a transcendent version of "Chimes of Freedom," the song's "majestic belts of bolts" electrifying the throng. When Dylan leaves the stage, the crowd goes wild, and the hapless Peter Yarrow is left holding the bag. Yarrow attempts to introduce Odetta but is booed to silence, the crowd chanting, "We want Bob." Yarrow ineptly responds, "Thank you for him and thank you for feeling this way." Just as Yarrow is ready to commit seppuku, Dylan bounds on stage, does a little dance, and smarmily remarks, "Thank you. I love you."
1965: Dylan is a sardonic, dispirited rocker and this is his restless farewell. He enters the fray with the appropriately titled, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and on one of the few forays Lerner takes off the stage we see Dylan mobbed by fans and sitting on a bus laughing at creepy-looking festival-goers who stare in at him through the bus windows ("They're all my friends" quips Dylan). Signs of things to come are registered by a teen attendee talking about Dylan, "When he gets to be a god who needs him anymore? He becomes part of the establishment."
Not for long. Dylan is rehearsing his soon-to-be-legendary electric set with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and woebegone Peter Yarrow is nagging the electric boys, "It is essential to get the level for your instruments into your heads!" Lerner brutally cuts from that to Dylan and Butterfield lacing into "Maggie's Farm" with Butterfield's angry, cutting guitar riffs and Dylan's killing, lacerating vocals -- rock as an expression of existential rage. This is a truly great performance and Lerner pulls no punches. What is shocking today is to hear the loud, vocal, and nasty chorus of boos greeting Dylan at the conclusion of the song. Dylan appears rattled and he stumbles through his next tune, "Like a Rolling Stone" which is also greeted by jeers. Dylan and Butterfield then stalk off stage, leaving Peter Yarrow to dab his brow of flop sweat. "Bobby, could you do another song please? He's going to get an acoustic guitar." Dylan returns and asks for a harmonica and is vigorously pelted with one from the crowd. Dylan launches into bitter and seething versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Dylan removes the guitar strap from his neck like removing a noose and stalks off the stage.
Lerner lingers on the empty stage and an abandoned microphone, Lerner's statement in the sudden, empty silence.
Reviewed at the 2007 New York Film Festival. Aka The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-65.
The answer was blowin' in the wind.