Criterion’s new special edition is fairly loaded, featuring new material, material from other releases for the film, and even material Criterion has used for other titles. Criterion first carries over the original audio commentary found on the initial Docurama DVD (and I believe used on other editions since) featuring director D. A. Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth. It’s laced with a surprising number of dead spots, a bit surprising since the film isn’t altogether that long, but the conversation between the two, when it happens, is at least engaging. The two more or less reminisce on the time period when the film was shot, Neuwirth talking about the tour, giving some context to incidents on screen (helpful where very little is given in the film itself), and then talking about Dylan and the various people that show up. Pennebaker also covers some of the same topics but gets into more technical details, from details on the equipment that was used to what he was trying to accomplish when putting the final film together. His main concern was to not make a concert film, which explains those sudden and often jarring cuts from when Dylan is performing on stage (in most films you would admittedly expect to see the whole thing through). The track wasn’t as packed with production information as I would have hoped (part of it could be because the track was recorded almost 35 years after the fact) but it was still often entertaining listening to the two talk about the film and the experience.
It’s no surprise in any way shape or form that Bob Dylan did not participate for this disc but Criterion has dug up a 4-minunte audio excerpt (played over scenes from the film) of Dylan talking about Dont Look Back, recorded in 2000. He gives a back story on how the film came to be (his manager suggested it) and recalls the experience of having the film crew follow him around (eventually he didn’t even notice them anymore). He also talks a bit about the tour in England, and how he had more fans in the country at the time in comparison to the States (he’d basically be mobbed in England, while ignored back home). Again, I wasn’t expecting anything from the man so to get something about his thoughts on the film (anything, even a quick sound bit from some interview fifteen years ago) works for me.
Criterion next includes 65 Revisited, a 65-minute film constructed by Pennebaker in 2006, made up of outtakes from Dont Look Back. Though it ultimately may feel like a “B-Roll” sort of film (similar to the Maysles’ Beales of Grey Gardens) there’s still some great material to be found in here, from Dylan joking about finances to extended bits with his fans. We also get to see manager Albert Grossman working out how Dylan’s television appearances will work out, though these negotiations are more around how Dylan will be treated on air, which is interesting though not as engaging (or as amusing) as the material in the film around who will pay more for his appearance. What may be of most value, though, is that we get more footage of Dylan’s performances, and there’s also an alternate take of the “cue card” opening at the end, this time on a rooftop (in the next interview on this disc Pennebaker mentions that there was an alternate take on a rooftop where the cards fly away, though this doesn’t appear to be that one; admittedly I’m not entirely sure). Usually stuff like this isn’t as engaging as the main film, and that holds true here as well but it’s still a well-constructed collection of outtakes and it proves to be entertaining.
There’s then a 2010 discussion between journalist Greil Marcus and D. A. Pennebaker. The 18-minute discussion goes over the film and what Pennebaker was going for with it, how and why he constructed it the way he did, and the two talk about specific scenes in the film, like the Donovan sequence and Grossman’s negotiating. Pennebaker also talks a bit more about finding distribution for the film. What’s fairly amusing about the interview, though, is that 45 years on Pennebaker is still unsure why Grossman wanted him to make this film, and based on this and comments in the commentary Pennebaker was brought in out of the blue. It’s a good interview, managing to cover more material and expanding on the commentary. It also works as a scholarly feature with Marcus talking about certain aspects of the film from a more scholarly angle and also goes over the impact it had.
We then get yet another alternate take for the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cue card sequence, taking place in the garden of the Savoy Hotel in London, and it runs 2-minutes. This is followed by additional audio performances recorded during the tour. The performances include It Ain’t Me, Babe; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Love Minus Zero/No Limit; The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, and To Romona. The recordings are presented in mono but are of excellent quality, sounding to have all been remastered. Copyright information for the recordings is also included under “About the Recordings.” In total they run about 28-minutes and play over an image of Dylan on stage.
Criterion next devotes a section to the early work of Pennebaker, which is found under the heading “D. A. Pennebaker: A Look Back.” We first get a new set of interviews under It Starts with Music and features Pennebaker along with collaborators Jim Desmond, Nick Doob, and Chris Hegedus. The conversation focuses on the development of Pennebaker’s style and his goals in what his films would cover. He goes over his learning experiences from his early films, particularly Baby, where he was filming his daughter in the zoo: it was here where he learned he should just observe and not “direct” his subjects so to speak. He and others then talk about their collaborations, the equipment he used and developed, experimentation, editing his films, and, of course, how he depicts musicians in films like Dont Look Back and Monterey Pop. At 29-minutes it’s an incredibly in-depth look into his work.
That is then accompanied by three early short films by Pennebaker: Daybreak Express (about 5-min), Baby (about 6-min), and Lambert & Co. (about 14-min). The first two show him sort of finding his own in terms of photography and editing, Daybreak Express cut to Duke Ellington’s song of the same name. Lambert & Co.—which chronicles Dave Lambert auditioning a new group of singers—seemed to show Pennebaker his true calling: as he states in the previous interview (and the notes preceding this short remind us) it allowed him to “[record] people and music as a kind of popular history that might not otherwise exist.”
Criterion also reuses a feature here found on one of their DVDs for a different title. Daybreak Express was actually included on Criterion’s DVD release for Ronald Neame’s The Horse’s Mouth. It may seem like an odd feature to include with that title but there was a good reason for it: Daybreak Express actually premiered with Neame’s film after Pennebaker looked for ways to get it distributed. That disc featured a brief 3-minute interview with Pennebaker where he talks about the film and its premiere and that same interview has been carried over to this edition as well because, hey, why not?
All three films are presented in high-definition and look really good, with Daybreak Express also looking better than what was found on Criterion’s DVD for The Horse’s Mouth.
Following this is a new 34-minute conversation between Pennebaker and Neuwirth, recorded exclusively for this release. It’s an engaging conversation, expanding on the commentary, as the two talk a bit more about how the film came about, with Neuwirth expanding on how he first met Dylan, and the two then talking about the concerts and the period that followed the tour. The two also cover filming Monterey Pop and the segment ends with footage of Neuwirth performing at the Gaslight Café.
Snapshots from the Tour is, surprisingly, another collection of outtakes, which are apparently making their debut here. The 25-minute collection is more odds and ends, not constructed together in a formal way like the previous set (which did make up their own film), though it appears the segments are at least presented in their order they were filmed. There are a couple of more “jam sessions” I guess you can call them, and some more footage of fans. But we get footage of Dylan and the group on the plane, flying over to London. There’s also footage of Grossman talking about how he feels Dylan’s popularity will hold up over the years, and then there’s a number of conversations, including a fairly extensive one about Blues and Gospel music. The sound drops in places and there are a couple places where they obviously ran out of film, but it’s another great collection of footage that I’m glad to see make it out.
Criterion then includes yet another interview, this time with singer/songwriter Patti Smith. The interview doesn’t have much to do with the film itself, but features Smith talking about how both Dylan and Neuwirth impacted her life and career. She never met Dylan until later in her career (which she recalls humourously) and his influence was more through his music (she recalls with enthusiasm how her mother got her the album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which her mother said looked like something she would like), but Neuwirth had a more direct influence, actually taking her under his wing after seeing her writing. This may be one of my favourite interviews on the disc, Smith focusing more on the impact the music had on her generation and what it meant, nicely closing off the main supplements. It runs 14-minutes.
The disc does also feature the theatrical trailer, which is just the opening cue card sequence, and then the included booklet (yes, an actual booklet) features a new essay on the film by Robert Polito, along with a number of newspaper clippings about Dylan’s tour, photos, and even diagrams featuring the equipment used by Pennebaker and team.
Overall it’s a fairly extensive and exhaustive collection of features, one of Criterion’s more loaded editions, beautifully covering the film, the time period, and Pennebaker’s work. 9/10