Friday, December 07, 2007

Film Review: "The Other Side of the Mirror"

Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

The Young Bob Dylan, Charismatic and Electric
The New York Times
Published: December 7, 2007

These days, and not for the first time, it seems as if everyone wants to be Bob Dylan. There are the half-dozen impersonators in Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There,” soon to be followed by John C. Reilly in a few scenes of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” and behind them there are several generations of guitar strummers and harmonica blowers Dylanizing in the streets and subway tunnels of every major city in the world.

All of which makes the appearance of “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965” especially welcome. Directed by Murray Lerner, it stars the man himself, with a few of his colleagues and friends: Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, members of which played backup for Mr. Dylan at the 1965 festival, when he shocked the folk establishment by “going electric.”

Such is the legend, at any rate. In Mr. Lerner’s film you hear boos after “Like a Rolling Stone.” But that’s a great performance, as is the encore, an acoustic version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that seems less penitential than triumphant. Those songs provide a thrilling climax to the film without quite overshadowing the others, which are culled from Mr. Dylan’s Newport appearances in 1963, ’64 and ’65, and presented out of chronological order.

How young he looks! In his early 20s, Mr. Dylan found himself not just at a musical crossroads, edging from folk and protest songs toward rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues, but also at a collision point between the diffident folkie ethic and the frenzy of celebrity culture. Mr. Lerner catches glimpses of Mr. Dylan’s transition from a troubadour in a work shirt to something like a rock star. But mostly he shows a skilled, charismatic musician developing beyond the scene where he first established himself.

David Gahr
Bob Dylan, 1963 in "The Other Side Of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-65."

If you were not at the Newport Folk Festival in the ’60s — or, for that matter, if you were — “The Other Side of the Mirror” places you in perfect seats, out of the sun and wind and without any extraneous contextualization. It’s a remarkably pure and powerful documentary, partly because it’s so simple. The sound mix is crisp, the black-and-white photography is lovely, and the songs, above all, can be heard in all their earnest, enigmatic glory, performed by an artist whose gifts are at once mysterious and self-evident.

The Other Side of the Mirror

Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

Opens today in Manhattan.

Produced and directed by Murray Lerner; directors of photography, Mr. Lerner, Stanley Meredith, George Pickow and Francis Grumman; edited by Alison Heim, Einar Westerlund, George Panos, Pagan Harlemann, Howard Alk and Mr. Lerner; released by MLF Productions. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. This film is not rated.

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