Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019) chronicles a freewheeling concert tour (Rolling Thunder Revue) and road-trip steered by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, along with other musicians, poets and collaborators, in the autumn and spring of 1975 and 1976, respectively. With plenty of uninterrupted footage of either a masked or a made-up Dylan onstage, and appearances by tour members Joan Baez, violinist Scarlet Rivera, Joni Mitchell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, to name a few, the film gives viewers a front-row seat to shows held over forty years ago.
In between, we’re also given behind-the-scenes glimpses of life offstage, and Scorsese included a bunch of interviews to create a picture of what the tour may have been all about as well as peeps at some of the drama that might have transpired. Dylan himself was interviewed, as were director Stefan van Dorp, who shot the original footage, and the concert promoter. A teary-eyed Sharon Stone, a teenager when the tour was underway, admits in an interview that she believed Dylan when he told her he’d written these lines for her: “She makes love just like a woman / But she breaks just like a little girl” . . . Lines that had actually been written a decade before. Dylan, appearing flummoxed, remarks, “she seemed old for her age.”
Adding yet another layer to the film, or disguise I should say, is that much of it isn’t true. “Life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything,” Dylan grumbles early in the film. “Life's about creating yourself and creating things.” And so Scorsese took that direction with the “story,” creating not a conventional documentary, or a documentary at all really, but a “magic trick,” as suggested by the opening scene, an excerpt from an early 20th century film showing a magician disappearing a woman from under a blanket.
No, Stone did not actually have an affair with Dylan. No, van Dorp didn’t shoot the footage (the guy in Scorsese’s film is actually Bette Midler’s husband, Martin von Haselberg). No, that isn’t the concert promoter; it’s Jim Gianopulos, CEO of Paramount Pictures.
Once you realize you’re being had, and you consider that Scorsese has never been a conventional storyteller, and you remember that Dylan, in all his various manifestations, has had a reputation for spreading falsehoods through the press and to fans, Rolling Thunder Revue is quite good—an experiment in myth-making for an already mythic poet and musician.