By Gregory Crofton
Jeff Rosen doesn’t like attention, at least that’s how it seems if you search for him on the Internet.
But he’s Bob Dylan’s manager and his archivist, the one who sorts, categorizes and protects the piles of art that Dylan surely leaves in his wake.
It was the foresight, planning and work of Rosen that allowed Martin Scorsese to mold the masterful documentary that is “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home” (2005). It not only answers important questions about Dylan’s work, it helps dispel some of the mystery that surrounds it, ultimately helping to making that work more approachable.
The documentary certainly did that for me.
Dylan, surprisingly, was willing to participate in an interview conducted by Rosen in the late 1980s. It produced 10 hours of footage that Scorsese said he others spent time “scouring.” This interview anchors the film and illuminates thought processes related to his art that had long been hidden to most.
The three-hour-plus documentary tells the story of the development of this American artist during the 50s and 60s, most specifically his career from 1960 to 1961, and you “see Dylan as he was formed in the crucible of that moment.”
This film became my own sort of crucible. It aired on PBS’s American Experience not long after I left behind a job as a newspaper reporter at Lake Tahoe to move in with my older brother, who lived in Nashville.
I watched it from the floor of his apartment, where I was sleeping every night, and realized completely, as I took it all in, that documentaries are where it’s at for me.
In addition to an interview with Dylan, Rosen lined up others that Scorsese drew from including Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Allen Ginsberg and Liam Clancy. And he handed off all of these conversations about Dylan to Martin Scorsese.
What also makes this film great are live performance clips and archival film shots by D.A. Pennebaker of Dylan’s 1966 show at Royal Albert Hall, Murray Lerner‘s black and white take on the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, and John Cohen‘s 16 mm shots of Dylan’s first days in New York City.
“With all the footage the ultimate challenge was the story, how to find it,” said Scorsese, receiving a 2005 Peabody Award given for excellence in broadcasting for the film. “It was Bob Dylan — for many of us, our artist, our voice. And what can you say that hasn’t already been said in his music?”
“We also tried to make a film about music in which you really hear music, Dylan’s music of course, but also more importantly I think the people who influenced him.”
And the music is there and powerful, that of Woody Guthrie, John Baez, The Clancy Brothers, of course Dylan and many others .
I watched “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” for a second time because it’s streaming on Netflix. Revisit it for yourself. It’s worth the trip.