Pooling the resources of five years of documentation, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan marks one of a handful of Martin Scorsese’s profiles of Bob Dylan. Vision and ambition are the two words Scorsese hopes to associate with Dylan in his three-and-a-half-hour documentary on the man. He does that well with a bulky feature detailing a few years in the life of Dylan. Scorsese and his subject have the benefit of hindsight. The dust has settled on a varied and lengthy career, especially on the pocket of influence Scorsese wishes to analyse. He combs through these five years finely, stretching the details out and picking them apart as much as he can. Scorsese knows what his audience will want from this feature, an out and out washing of Dylan, who is happy to oblige the questions and commentaries.
That is the greatest strength of No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Dylan’s involvement lends the documentary a level of credibility beyond that of just piecing together found footage. He narrates an audience through his life at this time. But Scorsese goes wider than that. Not quite happy to settle just on the intricacies and little details of Dylan’s life, he paints a necessary, wider picture of the 1960s. The mood, the style and the culture are all captured with dignified, statesmanlike creativity. Spliced between clips of James Dean, Dylan’s Newcastle performances and those that thought he was “prostituting himself” with that controversial move to electric music. The impact of such a switch is realised well, one of the many moments within No Direction Home: Bob Dylan that compounds contemporary knowledge with the retrospective knowledge audiences now have.
Tapping into the influences and the necessity of music for the time, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan taps into Johnnie Ray, Bobby Vee, Muddy Waters and Hank Williams, the influence they had on Zimmerman and how those early years affected him. Scorsese is keen to showcase all the ins and outs. It is a risk to his pace but he handles it well. The grand benefit is having the prominent interviewee be the subject of the documentary. There are few, if any, cuts to those that are fans of Dylan. No musicians exploring how much the man meant to them, no celebrities yapping about the greatness of the man himself. Scorsese can explore that without their help, and thankfully so.
Extensive and packed full of interesting bits of information, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan benefits well from having the eponymous subject appear and talk his way through the footage on hand. He speaks clearly and openly about his earliest years, his family and his rise and rise through the music scene of the time. Tying it all perfectly together, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan corroborates the politics, culture and feel of the 1960s with the musician who dominated the decade. Avenues and roads explored to talk of JFK and the political impact or that ever-lingering, controversial switch in musical style, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan has a hectic time of it all. Scorsese and Dylan do well to tame the beast of the 1960s and bring it all back home as a classic documentary with much to discuss about the period and the artist deep at the heart of it.