By Christopher Campbell
"It's stuff that I didn't put in the film that I did of Dylan, and why is a mystery to me," said D.A. Pennebaker on Wednesday evening as he introduced 65 Revisited to a packed auditorium. The occasion was the New York premiere of the film, presented as part of Filmmaker Magazine's "Dialogues on Film" series at IFC Center. Produced specifically for the recent special edition DVD package of his classic Dont Look Back, 65 Revisited has actually been available via that set since February, but this fact didn't make it surprising to see a sold-out crowd. Any opportunity to hear Pennebaker speak is well worth anyone's time. Plus, the legendary documentarian also premiered two previously unseen shorts.
"I don't think these are final films," he said later. "They're just what I did last week, or last year or 20 years – it's all the same."
The bonus films were not very long, even for shorts. Though they both featured people who appear in Dont Look Back and 65 Revisited, they weren't taken from footage of Bob Dylan's 1965 England tour. Still, they were appropriate openers. The first was simply a close-up on Bob Neuwirth performing a song. The second was of Allen Ginsberg reading a poem, although most of this film focused on the audience. "You'll notice there's no titles," Pennebaker said of the shorts. "When I first started making films, I thought titles were very bourgeoisie. You don't have to know that it's Bobby Neuwirth and Allen Ginsberg. It's a song that you listen to, and it's a poem."
As for the main attraction, 65 Revisted is literally a glorified DVD feature, a compilation of deleted scenes from the Dont Look Back cutting floor -- a bit ironic, considering it is a look back. "It was suggested that I look at the outtakes and maybe make another little film out of them," Pennebaker said. "And I resisted this because I didn't want to make Dont Look Back Again if I could help it. I don't know; it's just when you've done something, it seems like bad luck to stamp on it."
65 Revisited certainly could have been released separately (as was the case with the Maysles' The Beales of Grey Gardens), because it is in fact another great work by the music-doc master. Sure, it's a companion piece and not quite as revealing as the first film, but it's still classic Pennebaker. And while he couldn't give a reason why its footage hadn't made it into Dont Look Back, he was able to explain why it has been included now. "I'd never used a whole song in Dont Look Back," Pennebaker said. "I didn't want it to be about the music. I wanted it to be about Dylan. I didn't want to mix it up with a musical, although at the time I didn't know what a musical film was. It wasn't until the next year that I did Monterey [Pop] and found out what a musical film was.
"In looking at the stuff, where I'd see him sing a whole song, I saw something that I hadn't taken the time to think about before. When I was doing [Dont Look Back], I guess I wanted to be Ibsen. I was going to make a play about a musician. But when I looked at him singing the songs from beginning to end, I realized what got the Brits to where they would just sit there stoned listening. And it was because he was master of a whole kind of song. They had found a poet, and in England that's a big deal. And I realized when you're dealing with poetry, you can't just take a couple of good verses. You have to do the whole poem."
Dylan's fans would obviously love to see more whole poems – in fact they'd love to see everything captured by Pennebaker's camera, so one might wonder if this is the last we've seen from the '65 tour. "How much is left?" he asked himself, repeating an audience member's question. "A lot. We could maybe squeeze one more out of it."
65 Revisited Again may take awhile, but it's something to look forward to from Pennebaker. For now, though, here's more from the filmmaker on Dylan, Bowie, other people's cats and the controversial new NYC film permit proposal:
ON DYLAN'S REACTION TO DONT LOOK BACK: "At one point Bob called me up. He'd seen a different version of it that was a little bit different from [the first version he'd seen]. He said, 'I noticed that you've cut down some of the stuff where I'm playing the piano.' And I said, 'Yeah, I guess I did. I wanted it to be more for a general audience, and I was afraid that would seem too specific.' And there was a little pause and then he said, 'Have you ever filmed somebody filming a song before?' And I said, 'Actually, I don't think so.' And that was all he ever said. So I put it all back in. Then he said, 'That stuff in the room, all that shouting and screaming; we don't need that, do we?' And I said, 'Well, I thought about it, and I think we do.' He said, 'Yeah, I thought you'd say that.' And that's all I ever got. I thought how lucky I was to have a person that could lay off and accept a film about him. It wasn't what he wanted to see necessarily, but he would just let it go. He used to say, 'It's a great film; I'm just sorry it's about me.'"
ON MAKING ANOTHER, MORE CURRENT DYLAN FILM: "The idea of trying to make a film that you already made is kinda hard. You try to not have any preconceptions. It's like a kind of marriage. You go into it wondering, 'What in God's name is this going to be like? I can hardly wait' You don't go in and say, 'I've already done that, but I'll do it again to be a good fellow.' Actually, he asked me to do something a few years ago when he was doing something in a club. But we were somewhere else and couldn't do it. I would have done it if he wanted me. I would do anything if he [asked]. Sure, I'd try."
ON DYLAN VS. BOWIE: "You would never imagine David Bowie standing alone on a stage clanking away, with [a harmonica] on his mouth and tuning his guitar. The whole thing seems so homemade. But [Dylan] could bring that off and there wasn't a peep out of that audience. That made me think: However you got their attention, if what you did worked, it didn't matter. When David gets out on stage [in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars], the sense he gave that occasion was so amazing. It was like he covered it with glitter and diamonds. So that was a different kind of film to make. But it was the same quality for me as a film. It was kind of rough. And I was only sent [to the concert] by RCA to make a half-hour test film, because they were testing a new thing. I was only supposed to shoot a half hour. I didn't know this was going to be his last concert, because he didn't tell anyone. When I saw the first 10 minutes, I said: 'Hell, this is a film. I've gotta make a film.'"
ON HOW HIS FILMS ORIGINATE: "Films are like somebody else's pet cat. They come to you once in awhile looking for food, but they don't spend a lot of time in your house. Most of the films that we do come to us. We don't go out and originate them. I'd love to originate and come down in the morning and say, 'I've got a great one today!' That hasn't happened yet to me. People bring us films, the way wealthy people bring people food when they're hungry. They just bring them to us. They say, 'We saw a fantastic guy today and he's doing this and you guys should make a film about it.' And we take that seriously and we look into it and if we can raise the money and have our equipment working we'll maybe take a chance on it. That's the way The War Room was started. That's the way most films for us are done. So I don't think of myself as searching out to do films on things. If they want them done, the films will come and tell us. I think."
ON NYC'S NEWLY PROPOSED PERMIT AND INSURANCE RULES FOR FILMMAKERS: "I'm going to write my letter tonight. The first couple of films I ever did were walking around in the city. We were all trying to make the Italian post-war films here in New York. The very first film, Daybreak Express, which was about the (Third Avenue) elevated, and Baby, which was about my child in the park, and the film I did with Jane Fonda, they were all New York films. We couldn't have ever made them with any kind of rules. There were no rules. A person with a camera is now considered a terrorist, you know? I gather that's the problem now. So what it's going to do is people are going to start making films with their telephones. Which is great. And I'm sure there will better quality and better quality, and then there'll be telephones to show them on. And everybody will wonder how it started, but we'll know."
Posted at August 3, 2007 8:31 AM
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