Saturday, March 17, 2012

Blu Review - Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back

I've been gone awhile on another sabbatical. In fact I was almost never going to be back, my regular everyday job led me to be editor on a documentary, and due to it's political nature I was possibly going to have to say goodbye to this site, as I wasn't going to be allowed to be attached to anything that lent it's hand in things that may dabble in politics. Long story short, the gig, well, the entire project, fell through, and here I am. Oh Well. When did this place become such a ghost town? That's right - Bence, Gonzi, I'm calling you out. Anyhow, I'm a person who likes to change things up a lot, writing just about music has bored me for a while, so I'm gonna write some blu-ray reviews. I might not be allowed this courtesy, but I know for a fact the boss is gone in Vegas and I've plugged in an HDMI cable into my Motu HDX-SDI, screen grabs, here I come... You might remember (and you should, as it still is one of the most read articles in the history of this site - don't ask me why) I wrote a blu-ray review to Murray Lerner's "The Other Side of the Mirror sometime ago, this could be a companion piece...
Personal Bias: If you have read my articles on here, by now you probably know I have an eclectic taste in music, but at the other side of the rainbow, for me in music there's Bob Dylan, there's Paul Westerberg...and then there's everybody else. I first saw this in early 2005, at the height of my really diving into the deep end of the pool of Dylan fandom. I saw a spoof doc-short called Looking Back Don't Look Back and realized, I MUST see this film. I sought it out and loved every verbose, hipster clad moment of music and hanger-on misery. Later that fall Martin Scorsese's applauded four-hour No Direction Home Dylan doc and companion Bootleg Series soundtrack came out. Needless to say, it was a good year to be a Dylan fan.

"The Jester played for the King and Queen, in a coat he borrowed from James Dean"
Dylan/Don't Look Back reference from Don Mclean's "American Pie"

History Class: Even my Dylan fandom aside, this DA Pennebaker (who would later do Monterey Pop) documentary is one of the most well-respected documentaries of it's era, almost certainly the most influential 'rock-doc' of all-time. The "Subterranean Homesick Blues" cue card opening is both widely homaged and often credited as the first music video of all time. You see Dylan on-stage, seemingly bored almost, performing such songs as "The Times They are a-Changin," it's newer, surrealistic, material like "The Gates of Eden" that seem to draw more emotion from him. Behind the scenes you see a changing Dylan, leather jacket clad (the "coat he borrowed from James Dean") playing his new half-electric LP Bringing it all Back Home for anyone who'd listen. At the end of this tour Dylan would actually consider quitting the music business, bored of it. He would take a short vacation in which he would write a 20-page "piece of vomit" that would be edited down into a little song called "Like a Rolling Stone." Dylan was done being bored, and music history, would indeed, not look back.

Aesthetically Speaking: It's hard to top the 2007 issued '65 Tour Deluxe Edition' DVD set (seen to the right), and as far as aesthetics go, this doesn't do it. That big box still is the tops as far as Don't Look Back releases go, with it's rather unique packaging and cool extra insert goodies like the flip book and reproduction "screenplay" of the film. The blu-ray is a pleasing but boring regular 2-Disc case with similar graphics of the '65 Tour Deluxe Edition' set, just minimized. Nothing terrible, but disappointing if you compare the two.
The main menu is almost identical to the old DVD one, but looks much nicer I must say in it's new high definition format.

Aesthetics & Packaging: 2.75/5

Visually Speaking: Originally shot on, for their time, rather ingenious "portable" (still quite
large and heavy) 16mm cameras designed by director DA Pennebaker himself, the source material isn't exactly going to way anyone with a popping-3D type depth that excellent hi-def transfers can provide. These were rudimentary cameras with lighting situations far from ideal, and it shows. Scenes with heaver lighting or daytime scenes fare better, but a lot of the nighttime stuff and hotel hangout scenes are prone to heavier grain and while the picture in general has a bit of flat contrast to it, those scenes suffer more. This isn't to say it's bad, this film was never going to
be Avatar in picture quality. This is Cinéma vérité, and it's fly on the wall, and it's visuals speak for it's time the same way the music and locations do. While it's not a rich presentation in the blacks or contrast department, the film actually does look decent, and far better than the DVD ever did. It's AVC encode is a solid 30mbps and the source footage seems to be in decent shape after all these years.

Video: 3.25/5

The Sound: This release shines in this aspect more than any other. Howard Alk's wife, rather amazingly, recorded the audio for this film in some really ingenious ways. Look no further than the scene where Dylan is berating a reporter for Time Magazine, there's a girl sitting next to Dylan. One hand on her chin, her other resting underneath the table, right? Wrong, that's Jones Alk, recording sound, right there at the source of the action, without us even realizing it. More of the non-concert scenes have great, crisp dialogue than they should, really. Some of the more crowded scenes aren't perfect, but it's amazing how much is well recorded. Musically, the DTS-HD Master Audio two-channel mix has always been a vintage but mostly excellent source of hearing acoustic mid-60's Dylan, but it's never sounded this good, with four-times the information as any previous release. This isn't the Rolling Stones in 5.1, but this is a really good audio soundtrack, and the four full-song audio-only bonus tracks ported over from previous releases, thankfully get the same DTS-HD Master Audio treatment.

Audio: 4.5/5

A/V Bitrates: The uncompressed DTS-HD MA track is a beautiful 1.85MBps, while the AVC encoded video is a more than robust for it's source 30MBps. Anyone worried about the audio being a "barely an upgrade" track in the vein of say Dolby 640kbps can breathe a sigh of relief now.

Bonus Material: I mentioned earlier the awesomeness of the DVD '65 Tour Deluxe Edition' of
this film. I'd say if you want to upgrade to Blu, it's well worth it, but hang onto that bad boy. While most features are ported over, that set still has the book extras that didn't make it here. One thing to notice is while the 65 Revisited bonus disc is here, it's DVD, though print source quality wise, it wouldn't have been much an upgrade if any on Blu. Overall though, you'll find plenty to hold your attention:

(NEW) Greil marcus interview with DA Pennebaker (1080i; 18 mins)
Commentary with DA Pennebaker and Dylan Road Manager Bob Neuwirth
I'm a huge Neuwrith fan, he's the other hipster alongside Dylan for most of this film, this commentary is extremely entertaining and full of some great info.
Subterranean Homesick Blues Alternate take (480 SD; 2.5 Mins)
Full-Song Audio-Only Bonus Tracks (Four full recordings from the tour) (DTS-DS-MA)

The Bonus 65 Revisited DVD features both the hour long doc Pennebaker edited a few years back from outtake footage from this film, which is an excellent companion as it has more concert footage and shows another side of Dylan than the film does, a more quiet one, hanging out with fans, that sort of thing. It also has another excellent commentary with Pennebaker and Neuwirth.

Bonus: 4/5

Overall: This film still stands today as maybe the most insightful look captured on film of Dylan "the artist, the performer." It's must see for any Dylan fan or rock-fan and despite some source problems, this film has still never looked better, and the audio is a big upgrade as well. Even non-Dylan fan music buffs will likely admit that Dylan is probably the best songwriter of his or maybe any generation, but this film is absolute proof that here, at a mere 23-years old, there was a time where Dylan was the hippest person who walked the Earth. He played some killer acoustic shows too...

The Nice Price: Right now Amazon has this two-disc set for $15, can't go wrong with that.

Blu-Ray vs DVD & some Extra Blu Screen-Grabs:
Blu on Top, '65 Tour Edition' DVD on Bottom
Blu Re-sized from 1920x1080 to 640x480, DVD Re-Sized from 720x480 to 440x228
Blu-Ray Only Screengrabs
(Resized at 440x228 from 1920x1080)

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