Rolling Thunder Revue is a fascinating and difficult film to nail down. It’s not quite a music documentary, nor does it play out like a straight forward concert show. It’s not a historical documentary either but somehow Martin Scorsese manages to take the best elements from these different genres and blend them together, delivering a tumultuous re-imagining of the 1970’s and the story of a concert that spread itself across America before fading into obscurity.
After a brief introduction where we see Bob Dylan himself interviewed on-camera, we cut back in time to a year before the show. On-screen text informs us that although Dylan stopped touring in 1966, in 1974 he reunited with The Band and played sold out arenas. It was at this point where Gianopulis began throwing around an idea for a Revue, a collaboration of rock’n’roll artists to band together and put on a wild concert, touring America. The Rolling Thunder part however, is something that’s debated between the different artists. Some claim it was inspired by thunder roaring across the landscape while others felt the name coincided ironically with the Military operation of the same name.
Whatever the reason, the big risk paid off and with Bob Dylan’s closest friends in the industry, the film goes on to showcase the journey they all took putting on these concerts and the roadblocks they encountered along the way. Interspersed around the full length tracks for some of Dylan’s best songs are archival shots and face to face interviews. Newsreels, audio snippets and phone conversations help flesh out the film and bring the 1970’s, and Bob Dylan himself, to life in the best possible way.
Putting on a big concert like this takes a lot of work and hearing the various artists clash, disagree and debate about just what Rolling Thunder’s purpose actually was, ultimately showcases the tumultuous ride these guys had. These disagreements are some of the best moments of the film too and even away from the stage, Bob Dylan’s unwavering charisma is ultimately the biggest draw here and the thing many people will remember the most fondly.
The film ends on a suitably fitting note too, as the various players disagree over whether Rolling Thunder was a success or not. Given the small venues they all played at, the promoters clearly didn’t see it that way but some of the political influence Dylan had and the intimate setting these smaller venues garnered is something that some of the artists definitely saw as a success. As the film ends, we close out with a suitably fitting crescendo, one final song bowing us out as we see all the different venues Rolling Thunder played.
Whether you’re a fan of Bob Dylan or not, Rolling Thunder successfully takes us on a trip down memory lane. It’s portrayal of the 70’s is realistic, well written and despite it’s 2 hour 22 minute run time, never feels like it outstays its welcome. The interviews are engaging and the archival footage of the time is certainly a must-see for fans of music in this era. The passion and enthusiasm from the artists themselves is infectious enough to keep you watching but of course, Bob Dylan himself will be the biggest draw here. Rolling Thunder Revue is well worth a watch though and certainly one of the better documentaries this year.