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Looking Back on 'Don't Look Back'

9 Jan, 2007 By: Jessica Wolf



Going back to what has become one of the most revered music documentaries, Don't Look Back, was a little surreal, said director D.A. Pennebaker of his intimate look at Bob Dylan's 1965 tour.

“A different person made that film,” Pennebaker said.

The now-famous director looked back on his time with then 23-year-old rising folk singer Dylan for a new special edition release from Docurama arriving Feb 27. Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back – 65 Tour Deluxe Edition ($49.95) is a two-disc collector's set that includes a digital transfer of the original film and adds Pennebaker's brand-new, hour-long work “Bob Dylan 65 Revisited,” which features footage from the England leg of Dylan's 1965 tour.

The collectible set also includes original 1968 companion book to the film.

Pennebaker and longtime Dylan tour manager Bob Neuwirth provide commentary for the original film and the new feature.

“It was like digging up bones,” Pennebaker said, laughing.

As he went back to the film he made more than three decades ago, one thing cropped up almost immediately, the director said.

At the time, Pennebaker didn't want to include any full-song performances, especially for more protest-laden Dylan tunes such as “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. The original Don't Look Back features lots of footage of Dylan singing, but nothing in its entirety.

“The fact that I edited those things out, at the time I was sure, but now I … what was I thinking?” Pennebaker said, laughing.

For the new disc, Pennebaker put in the full performance of “Hattie Carroll,” which he was able to find the rest of the footage for.

Dylan's impact on music and the world in general is so much more realized now, he said, and it is fascinating to watch the singer as a young man on a darkened stage with a lone guitar and harmonica.

“I don't feel totally responsible [for Don't Look Back] anymore,” he said. “You make things like that and that person that you were when you made them sort of disappears in your life. When you look back at it years later it's like someone else did it you don't feel totally responsible.”

Also included on the disc is an alternate version of the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” title sequence — the now-iconic image of Dylan flipping posters of lyrics and messages as the song plays.

The alternate version shows Dylan having some trouble handling the stack of the large cue cards, whipped up by a windy day.

The whole cue-card scene was Dylan's idea, Pennebaker said.

Over the years, Don't Look Back has become a critics' favorite and a music- and film-fan staple.

Pennebaker says that while his work on the film and his cinema verite style has been praised over the years, the longevity can be nearly all attributed to Dylan.

“Dylan has some mystic presence that he conveys and it gets everybody's attention and they think he must know something,” Pennebaker said. “He's like the wise man that never says a word. You don't hear his music played on the radio his music kind of exists in spite of how it's done ….He somehow triumphs over a system that is not wholly hospitable about his music.”

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