Bob Dylan – Eat the Document Review

Too weird for ABC, too rare to bury it deep in their archives. Eat the Document gives a quick glimpse into the lifestyle and touring antics of Bob Dylan. Not as well as Don’t Look Back did a few years before the wider circulation of this short Dylan documentary, but certainly with a new angle of interest. Directed, edited and starring the man himself, Eat the Document is one of the closest images audiences will ever receive of the electric innovator at his 1960s peak. Intimate and as close as mega-fans may ever get to experiencing Dylan in an unguarded environment. Even then, the unguarded character may be a little more perplexing and upfront about fame and talent than first expected.

While Eat the Document is not off-putting, it does feel like a bonus disc to D. A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. That may be because he shadows Pennebaker who directs this piece, with Dylan offering guidance on what to showcase and where to place it. He does well for a man halfway down in the directing chair. With a firmer hand behind the camera, it frees up Dylan to work on being that stranger and character many of his fans are infatuated with. At least that is brought to the forefront in this brief piece. It feels closer to discarded footage from Don’t Look Back than a stable documentary with narrative and focus. But even then, it is more footage of Dylan and revealing footage at that.

It is the reflection of mania and self-imposed greatness that Eat the Document profiles best of all. Whether or not that is accidental, who knows? Open to debate and discussion, incomprehensible at the best of times but awkwardly fascinating too. Dylan was and is untouchable. He snorts amphetamines and asks if people know who he is. That is the opening to Eat the Document, and it devolves from there with an experienced lack of grace. It is intoxicatingly fun at times. Not quite self-obsession, but a perceived intellectualism that is appointed by Dylan, rather than gained from others. Interesting it may be to see John Lennon and Johnny Cash in the mix of all this, some personalities are so synonymous with this generation. Albert Grossman and Richard Manuel both make appearances, how effective they are is entirely dependent on how an audience perceives them and their relationship to Dylan.

That was his shtick for a while. The mysterious man in the black suit. It works well for his persona and for this documentary that saw rejection and ridicule from those that thought it’d be too confusing for mainstream audiences. That it is. It is confusing for everyone involved, but it is a fascinating peek behind the curtain and a rare one at that. Short enough to interest, long enough to innovate. Eat the Document has no stringent narrative. It is a collection of bits and pieces with no rhyme or reason. For those that can appreciate the novelties of that, this Dylan-directed documentary will prove to be an interesting experience. For those hoping to learn something of the man himself from the man himself, they’ll be sorely disappointed.

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