Don't Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker / U.S., 1967):

The impish tone -- cinéma-vérité's "raw truth" aspirations as the recurring joke -- is established with the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" opening, with Bob Dylan playing Buster Keaton with cue cards. The main event is the singer in his 1965 British tour, D.A. Pennebaker tags along with his whirring 16mm cam to document an insolent pop phenomenon shaping an epoch as he goes along. Dylan, jet-lagged in full hipster regalia (shades, dangling cig, rumpled Jewfro), enters England singing "London Bridge Is Falling Down" on his way to the first of many absent-mindedly combative meetings with the media; mock-Zen advice on light bulbs is intoned, Joan Baez contorts her face for photos. Warhol encourages the theatricality of the ordinary while Pennebaker accentuates the offhand (and off-guard) ordinariness of superstars -- Baez sings "Percy's Song" in a hotel room as Dylan, back to camera, types his novel one key at a time. The two do a couple of Hank Williams tunes, but the "Bard in Black" knows he's the one directing the film, a great whirlwind even when frequently making an abusive ass of himself: "Dylan Digs Donovan" makes front-page news, yet the meeting is a sly bitchslap, with Dylan snatching Donovan's guitar after "To Sing For You" to make way for "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Dylan shares a quick giggle with the camera as tour promoter Albert Grossman badgers for more money in the background, Alan Price drops by to use a piano to open a beer bottle, Marianne Faithful is here somewhere. A glass hurled out a window triggers the asshole in Dylan, a performance of "To Ramona" displays his genius -- "not so much singing as sermonizing," goes one reporter, another is made a befuddled pawn in extended mind games ("Give me a reason I should want to know you"). Like Picasso at his canvas filching authorship from Clouzot in Le Mystère Picasso, Dylan courses through like loose mercury, a capricious nightmare, inscrutable jester, brilliant artist. Pennebaker just has to man the zoom, adjust the focus, and try to keep up. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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