Fifty years ago, shortly after the Beatles sent American audiences into spasms of frenzy, Bob Dylan toured England and returned the favor. No, Dylanmania didn't match Beatlemania in volume or insanity. But it was still a pretty big deal, as we're reminded with Criterion's fine new Blu-ray edition of the 1967 doc Don't Look Back.
The film could have easily taken a subtitle from the troubadour's 1963 album, The FreeWheelin' Bob Dylan. D.A. Pennebaker's spontaneous, fly-on-the-wall approach captures Dylan unplugged: verbally jousting with a student journalist, hanging with Donovan, jiving with former Animals keyboardist Alan Price and scurrying from various concert venues as fans bang on the get-away car. It's a portrait of a star on the cusp of major change, surveying fame with a bemused smile as hangers-on bestow voice-of-a-generation acclaim.
This brief spring acoustic tour unfolded right before Dylan shook up the music world by plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of '65. In one scene of Don't Look Back you can hear an early pressing of the jangly Bringing it All Back Home album, which has an acoustic side and an electric side; the album's first track, "Subterranean Homesick Blues," is featured in the film's famous flashcard opening (yes, that's Allen Ginsberg hanging out in the background). Dylan's times were a-changin', and Pennebaker was on hand to capture the shift. (Rolling Stone has an insightful breakdown of the Criterion restoration right here).