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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

No Direction Home

Famed folk singer's musical expedition is retraced in Scorcese film

By David Wilson

No Direction Home
Directed by Martin Scorsese
(Paramount Pictures)

I was 17 when I discovered Bob Dylan, or should I say, when Bob Dylan discovered me. He’s had a grip on me ever since. I will probably go to my grave trying to understand the singular genius of this beguiling songwriter-performer.

Dylan has always scorned the idea that he’s some kind of messiah. Yet that only makes his disciples look deeper for messianic qualities in his life and work. Perhaps putting to rest the deification that has dogged him for almost half a century was what prompted Dylan to agree to open his vault of personal artifacts and sit down for 10 hours of interviews with a team of documentary filmmakers led by director Martin Scorsese.

No Direction Home, the 200-minute-long film that resulted from the collaboration, does succeed in demythologizing Dylan — to a point. Notoriously obtuse, he is refreshingly straightforward here, describing his experiences in the culturally barren mining country of northern Minnesota, then in New York’s Greenwich Village during the folk and protest years of the early 1960s, and finally at the epicentre of a cultural revolution he helped ignite with music that went places no music had ever gone before. The film stops in 1966, when he went into seclusion following a motorcycle accident and began to reinvent himself all over again.

In the interviews, Dylan insists he’s a “musical expeditionary,” driven more by a passion for collecting songs and creating sounds than by some vaguely defined higher purpose. Try as he may, though, he cannot completely deny the mythic elements in the narrative of his life. Radio waves reaching into the dark void of the Minnesota night told the young Robert Zimmerman he had been “born a very long way from where I was supposed be,” and beckoned him on an odyssey to find his real home. It has been a quest seemingly without end. And the music he made along the way invited millions of others to journey with him.

Forty years after Dylan entered my world, he has found a way into the world of my children. They are as drawn to this film as I was when it premiered on television a few years ago. And so they should be. Great songs are timeless, and so are great lives.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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