The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-65
Directed by: Murray Lerner
Us hipsters living in such edgy NYC neighborhoods as the Lower East Side or Prospect Heights have sunk a lot of dough into our music collections over the years and while we periodically weed through our CDs and LPs, tossing out the odd Terence Trent D’Arby or Linda Rondstat album, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has loosened their grips on their copy of Sgt. Pepper’s or Back in Black. And then there’s the ubiquitous Dylan collection which necessarily includes Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. [My personal favorite is Nashville Skyline but that’s getting off topic.] It’s no coincidence that any serious Dylan collection includes those particular three works for it was during that seminal period when Bob Dylan folkie, became DYLAN, Spokesman of a Generation. Nowhere is that transformation more vivid than in the new documentary, Murray Lerner’s The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at The Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965. All the footage –70% of which has never been seen before– is lovingly pieced together from those three summers and Lerner, wisely, allows the footage to speak for itself. There are no talking heads, no aging rockers’ waxing philosophical, mostly just Bob Dylan playing Bob Dylan songs. Oh, there are some terrific moments with Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary, but mostly it’s just Bobby Dylan, singing into the microphone while strumming away on his guitar.
Dylan had emerged from the NYC folk scene in the early 60’s and had already caused quite a stir but not many of us aforementioned hipsters were around back in those days, or at least not old enough to remember just what a sensation this punk folk singer caused back in the day. Folk music was such a huge phenomenon at the time, its fans such die hard purists, that any modifications to their songs were often met with outrage and while Dylan was initially met with a certain amount of skepticism and even derision, it was impossible for anyone with a mind of their own to ignore the obvious: this skinny Jewish kid was the shit. As portrayed in the new Todd Haynes “biopic,” I’m Not There, Dylan was all about persona and his particular brand of shape shifting left everyone enthralled. Over the course of The Other Side of The Mirror, we get to witness one of these morphings right before our eyes; that of a shy self-conscious folkie into a cocky rock star. It’s worth the price of admission, I can assure you.
Legacy Recordings, Sony BMG Music’s re-issue label, has done a beautiful job with their official Dylan bootleg series. Terrific audio companions to The Other Side of the Mirror, the DVD of which hits stores on October 30th, the bootlegs from this same three-year period showcase the very performances where he was accused of betraying his fans. The documentary shows many overwhelmed fans, many of whom seem angry at Dylan but in many cases are actually bewildered by what they just experienced, still too dazed by the rawness of the performance to make sense of it. This is the most exciting aspect of Lerner’s film and which is why it works so much more successfully at illustrating that time than, say, Don’t Look Back. Said D.A. Pennebaker movie is no doubt one of the all-time classic rock docs, but that film shows –much like Haynes’ new film– a smugness that is absent in Mirror.
In the press conference that followed the screening, Lerner finally, once and for all clears up some of the mythology surrounding the ’65 plugged in Newport appearance. Yes, Seeger was outraged by the noise but, no, he never threatened to take an axe to speaker system cables. Seeger, an authentic pioneer and radical himself was smart enough to recognize that the times, they were-a changing and wisely knew to step aside and let art take its course.
Bob Dylan in The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965
Directed by Murray Lerner, US, 2007; 80m
Photo Credit: MLF Films