Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Bob Dylan/John Lennon Improv Comedy Experience: 1966


In 1967, D.A. Pennebaker released his epochal documentary DON'T LOOK BACK (which the Austin Film Society will screen at the Paramount Theater on Thursday January 19 with special guest host Austin Chronicle Music Editor Raoul Hernandez). The film follows Bob Dylan and his entourage on their first UK tour. It is a great musical doc, of course, but it also depicts a fascinating evolution in language, consciousness, and style, with Dylan at the center of it.

Less well known is the fact that Dylan and Pennebaker returned to England a year after the filming of DON'T LOOK BACK. This time Dylan had gone electric, and the tour was a much rocker road. The film that Dylan and Pennebaker intended to make was called EAT THE DOCUMENT, but Dylan was never quite satisfied with it and the footage has mostly been hidden away in the vault since it was filmed.

One portion of this footage has made the rounds among collectors and has even been uploaded to YouTube (linked below). Forgive the terrible quality but I think you'll agree that this long rambling discussion/comedy routine/cutting session between these two acerbic rival geniuses is worth the lo-fi watch. Hint: turn off Annotations.

Many have speculated about what drug or drugs Dylan has taken prior to filming this. That, as far as I know, is still uncertain, but what is certain is that this piece of film is hysterically funny, and revelatory about these two, their attitude to each other, and to their peers.

Sample dialogue:
Dylan: (to driver) Tom, I'm going to turn you into Tyrone Power. 
Lennon: Say that again Bob. 
Dylan: Tom, I think I'm going to turn you into Ronald Colman... 
Lennon: Much better, very much better. 
Dylan: ...Reginald Young, Petey Wheetstraw... plus Sleepy John Estes, man... (unintelligible)... like Robert Johnson, and go to medical school like J. Carroll Naish. 
Lennon: And Johnny Cash, and all the rest of 'em. 
Dylan: I have Johnny Cash in my film... You'll shit, man. 
Lennon: Oh really. 
Dylan: Yooooou're gonna shit man. You won't believe it. 
Lennon: (in a theatrical voice) "Hello kids, John's gonna shit again!" 
(Laughter) 
Dylan: You know what he looks like, right, Johnny Cash? Have you spent much time around him? He moves great. He moves like that, man (mimes karate-chop-like move)... All good people move like that... (to camera): Johnny! 
Lennon: Johnny! (sings) Big river... big river....




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