The Other Side of the Mirror - Bob Dylan Live at The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 [Blu-ray]
This film edits together songs from Dylan's day and night performances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963/64/65. It does not show Dylan's entire performances from each year. It also includes brief clips of and with other acts (especially Joan Baez, whom Dylan was dating at the time), the audience's reactions, etc. The editing and choices of clips (and choice of omissions) help the viewer see first hand how Dylan was perceived and treated by the masses and how his confidence grew and persona and style changed over those 3 years. It makes it much easier for a modern viewer to understand the controversy felt when Dylan included an electric set with a band in 1965.
For this reason, I think it is a valuable film. The footage remains raw and grainy, not remastered, but the image and sound are decent for the time and intended effect. There's a lot of footage I've never seen. For the price I highly recommend this DVD. It's well packaged and includes a short but informative booklet.
Here's a listing of the songs (an * denotes my personal favs) and some personal notes after only 1 viewing.
Songs from 1963:
North Country Blues, With God On Our Side, Talkin' World War 3 Blues, Who Killed Day Moore*, Only a Pawn In Their Game, Blowin' In the Wind*. In 1963, Dylan really seems like a Woody Guthrie imitator, almost "acting" the role at times. The introduction he's given shows how much the folk world expected him to be the "saviour" of folk music, the "spokesman and poet" of his generation, etc. That's a lot of unnecessary weight thrown at a new artist and Dylan later proves he was never in it for others. In 1963, he's loving the attention, power and freedom. It's also funny how his talking songs are so like rapping, and by 1963 this was already a old style used by blues artists! In 1963, Dylan was "one of the people", at one with his audience, interacting with them on and off stage.
Songs from 1964:
Mr. Tambourine Man, It Ain't Me Babe*, With God On Our Side, Chimes of Freedom. Never seen Dylan smile so much as when he's with Baez. Enjoy listening to them harmonize, even if it's improvised and sloppy. Baez has a more powerful voice than I had heard before. Mr Tambourine Man hadn't been recorded yet when he performed it. In 1964, Dylan was rising above his audience, becoming less reachable, and talking to them from his stage. Not sure that he was enjoying the celebrity status and the weight of expectations thrown upon him. You can see how becomes more cynical, partly as a defense mechanism.
Songs from 1965:
All I Really Want to Do, If You Gotta Go Go Now*, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Maggie's Farm*, Like a Rolling Stone*, Mr Tambourine Man, It's All Over Now Baby Blue*. He's strumming the guitar more now instead of finger picking it, and playing more rhythmically, so that even the acoustic numbers now suggest the feel of a backing band. Also, by using a capo so much, his acoustic songs are usually only based on a few chords, in the folk tradition. His rock type songs have more chords. It's cool to see how much more agile his voice was when he was young. The band plays well, in Dylan's manner of jamming. The crowd has mixed reactions, only about half are booing him during the electric set and the crowd still wants an encore, which he gives acoustically. In 1965, Dylan is a star/celebrity and distanced from the audience. He's in his own world and talks at them but not with them. The look is different, he's got his walls of defense up and he really wants to be accepted in the rock world too. I think he was hoping the fans would follow and he was genuinely hurt and taken off-guard at their reaction. It also shows that he was never thinking about the folkies' expectations in the first place and never out for them. After all the support and love they gave him, he turned out to be their Judas indeed. However, Dylan truly loved folk (along with rock and blues and country) and his music was true, if only to himself --- therefore it is not true that he waved the folk flag of convenience until he was popular enough to gain acceptance into the rock world.
A few other thoughts after watching this:
Surprising how soon after he met the Beatles that they BOTH changed. On the Beatles' next albums (Help!, Beatles For Sale, Rubber Soul) we see acoustic numbers and personal lyrics (especially by Lennon). Dylan's next album is half electric and the songs are more musically complex and have more chords in them.
Dylan clearly had (has) a talent for lyrics and song writing. As a singer and performer, he's clearly outclassed by pretty well everyone else. However, in the folk tradition of "truth" Dylan's raw voice and playing help dress his songs in the apparel of truth, the bearing of personal thought and soul, etc. He's admired by the other artists as well as the fans. Another thing to remember is that, as important and popular as he was personally, his "folk" records never sold as well as those "rock" covers of his songs that became hits. Most people never heard Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man" with all the verses, until after the Byrds condensed version became a hit.
This films helps show how important Joan Baez was in popularizing Dylan. Pete Seeger was most important in popularizing folk music and giving it integrity, but it was the rare folk acts like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary who were hugely popular and sold a lot of records. In 1963, Joan Baez was the biggest female folk artist and Dylan's initial acceptance to the folk world was largely due to her support, etc. Their dating helped bring media attention and helped both their careers, in the sense of popularizing them beyond the folk market and into the pop realm, as the "royal queen and king" of folk. It's also easy to forget that the Dylan's first album was, in the true folk tradition, all cover songs and that the Dylan we know didn't make his mark until the second album.
It's sad that so few of the folk acts, who were so important and popular at the time, are ignored by contemporary radio. You may hear one or two Peter, Paul and Mary or Kingston Trio songs on the radio but rarely do we hear Joan Baez. The folk movement had plenty of great songs, but most of the artists and songs have become more legendary, more heard about than heard anymore. Except for Dylan, that is!