Some shots of D. A. Pennebaker’s classic film “Don’t Look Back” were filled with cigarette smoke and laughter, while others featured a resounding harmonica and an encapsulated audience or loud arguments and refusals of cooperation.
In all cases, the iconic Bob Dylan was somewhere in the shot.
Michael Chaiken, curator of the Bob Dylan Archive at the Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa, presented a 50th anniversary viewing Monday of Pennebaker’s documentary film, which juxtaposed the modern perception of Dylan against reality, at the Belo Center for New Media. The classic film documented Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in the UK, capturing Dylan’s transition from folk to pop.
Chaiken said the film was impactful because it showed viewers a different side of Dylan. The film’s documentary style was new at the time of its release, Chaiken said.
“If you look at early reviews of the film, viewers tended to be a bit more skeptical and discerning,” Chaiken said. “I think the fact that we’re 50 years on, talking about it, revisiting it, restoring it, is a testament to Bob Dylan’s artistry and also the artistry of the film’s director, Pennebaker.”
Dave Junker, Senior Fellows Program director, said the viewing offered a glimpse at an important artistic and cultural moment in history.
“We get such a romanticized view of the 1960s, but if you go back to that moment in time … it becomes a lot more complicated,” Junker said. “If we have a distorted view of the past, it doesn’t give us insight into the present.”
The movie, filmed on a camera Pennebaker created himself, was one of the first documentaries, Chaiken said.
“It was inspiring to see this off-the-cuff footage,” said Anna Christian, radio-television-film and Plan II sophomore. “It seemed very pure and raw, sort of a B-roll footage feel. It was a very genuine feeling the way it was told.”
Following the screening, the audience asked Chaiken questions such as how Dylan’s aesthetic was contrary to the folk music he played, his attitude toward the film and the influence other artists had on him.
“So many people relate to him and that’s powerful,” Christian said. “He is, of course, an icon. The same way people talk about philosophers and their schools of thought, (Dylan) has a school of thought himself about counterculture.”