Martin Scorsese on Bob Dylan, Netflix and beating back the blockbuster

“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese” is a blistering semi-fictional documentary that chronicles Dylan’s mythic 1975-1976 rambling cavalcade across a post-Vietnam America. “The words, the music, the performance, the thinking, the provocation — all of this has an impact on people. I was at NYU at the time or Washington Square College in 1961. “No one else did. They need the blockbuster. How we got it made, if I had to draw the pictures and show them on the street corner, I would have done that.”

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Since 1974’s “Italianamerican,” his portrait of his parents, Scorsese has often toggled between fiction and documentary films. We were making movies.”
In this Dec.1975 file photo, musicians Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, Richi Havens, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform the finale of the The Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour headed by Dylan (AP Photo, File)
At the time of the Rolling Thunder Revue, Scorsese was making “Taxi Driver,” which, like Dylan’s caravan, channeled post-’60s disillusionment. The — how should I put it? I need to make these movies. There are people that are going to continue to make them.”
Scorsese, 76, is still making them, though there’s little “regular” about his latest film. What I’m concerned about is if the theater experience is only blockbusters.”
This image provided by Netfilx shows Bob Dylan in a scene from Martin Scorsese’s latest film, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese.”
Anyone who does see “Rolling Thunder Revue,” whether they lived through it or not, will likely have their mind blown. The cinema he grew up with and which he makes, he has said , is gone, a victim of today’s screen-hogging blockbuster dominance. I don’t do those,” says Scorsese. It’s not going to be the studios. No one else did,” says Scorsese. “It’s like the pied piper,” he says. “There’s a generation that thinks cinema is a blockbuster,” he says. “We decided to make it with the understanding that it’ll maybe never be shown in theaters. I liked the idea. I think the theater experience is important. We see Ginsberg reading poetry in a mahjong club, Dylan in a slicker at Niagara Falls, Joni Mitchell trying out a new song (“Coyote”). Those began, of course, with 1978’s “The Last Waltz,” the concert-film classic about The Band’s farewell. I’d go to the building on Greene Street. It’s got to go someplace. — the regular film, that’s being edged out. Scorsese has also inserted fictional characters to amplify the folklore and embrace Dylan’s own trickery; “Rolling Thunder Revue” merrily prints the legend. What if I had another 20 years or something, where would I be getting the financing? In white face and with blazing eyes, Dylan unleashed ferocious performances of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” ”Isis,” Hurricane” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
What’s left of that musical moment? He considers the music films as important as the narrative ones. “It has a lot to do with the vantage point of being 76 years old, for myself, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci,” he continues. It’s not enough to say the world changes and it doesn’t mean anything. It opened in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Advertising

It can feel like eons ago. I said fine. I didn’t go in there. Ginsberg, in a speech at the tour’s conclusion captured on camera by Dylan, provides a counterpoint that Scorsese favors. The film, which premieres Wednesday on Netflix and in select theaters, includes restored performance footage from the tour, scenes of the backstage circus (much of which was shot for the Dylan-directed, Sam Shepard-scripted four-hour 1978 film “Renaldo and Clara”) and contemporary interviews with many of the participants, including Joan Baez and, in his first on-camera interview in a decade, Dylan. “Ashes” Dylan resolutely states in the film. It has to go someplace because you know why? Scorsese believes that spirit holds lessons for audiences today that have likewise been conditioned to the commercialization of an art form. Scorsese believes a lot more than ashes remains. Scorsese had to work tirelessly to get his last film, the impassioned religious epic “Silence” made. “That spirit has to be remembered and it has to be re-experienced, especially in the climate of today around the world. Advertising

“He may not be aware of the beauty, the inspiration,” the director says of Dylan. “There’s only so much time in your life. Rolling Thunder was in part about, in that vacuum, creating an artistic community outside of corporate interests and subverting audience expectations. (Paramount picked up “Silence” for distribution.)

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“I’m looking at this and I say: Wait a minute. And you can tell from the electric, impassioned performances, that amid the carnival, Dylan was deadly serious. Dylan and the band, including Mick Ronson and the mysterious violinist Scarlett Rivera, performed in painted faces or masks. “I do prefer that people see ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ with an audience. The ones who are able to hear it.”

Comment(s) I just need to. It’s been a decade, he notes, since a major studio financed one of his films. Dylan says in the film it was when people lost conviction in everything. The poet implores all to “take from us some example” and “go out and make it for your own eternity.” Scorsese was so moved by Ginsberg’s words that he used them last year in his commencement address at his daughter’s high-school graduation. The idea was to make the movie, you see. The tour plotted a course away from the major-market arenas. “I hope one informs the other,” he says. Across the street there was this place called Gerde’s Folk City and this guy named Bob Dylan was performing there. “It was something that had to be made. I’d walk right by. It has a timelessness.”
What lasts culturally has lately been much on Scorsese’s mind. They said, ‘You would have a time in theaters’ — a few weeks or whatever. Shepard called it “some kind of medicine” for the country. Advertising

“Now, that’s not fair,” Scorsese says. “We have to fight back at this practice of overwhelming the market with the blockbuster. “What we were going for was to say: What survives from these ashes?” Scorsese told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I was not a hippie. “I follow the musician, the poet.”
Yet though Scorsese and Dylan are contemporaries who started out in ’60s New York, they’ve often been like ships passing in the night. Dylan appeared in that, and Scorsese’s more straightforward Dylan doc, 2005’s “No Direction Home .”
Though Scorsese knew Dylan a little around the time of “The Last Waltz,” he didn’t meet with the singer for either “No Direction Home” or “Rolling Thunder Revue.” Both productions came through Dylan’s team, who conducted the interviews seen in “Rolling Thunder.” (A 14-CD box set of live recordings from the ’75 tour has also been released simultaneously.)
Dylan’s longtime manager, Jeff Rosen, first approached Scorsese with some of the tour’s footage just after “No Direction Home.” The director instantly responded to the power of the images and agreed to do it. Dylan himself says Rolling Thunder happened so long ago “I wasn’t even born.” But for Scorsese, the movie is largely about what remains from that freewheeling extravaganza, when Dylan drove a Winnebago-led caravan of musicians, artists and poets (among them Allen Ginsberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Bob Neuwirth) on a nationwide storm. So where do I go?”
“Rolling Thunder” is Scorsese’s first movie with Netflix, which will this fall also release his much-anticipated, big-budget mafia epic “The Irishman.” Netflix was the only one willing to bankroll the $125 million film (the cost has since gone up), about the reflections of a former Jimmy Hoffa associate and hitman. By the way, I don’t think it will ever go away.