The documentary No Direction Home opens up with a montage of footage of Bob Dylan performing on stage with his song “Like a Rolling Stone” overlaying the scenes. The first shot, is a wide shot from behind Dylan as he sings to a crowd of fans in a darkly lit concert hall. A spotlight beams down on him so we clearly see his silhouette, this immediately put the focus on him even though he is dimly lit. The next shot if more obvious in its glorification of it’s highly seminal subject; a close up of Dylan’s brightly-lit face shot from a low angle, he sing passionately into the microphone. This give us the same view at many of his fans would have shares from their viewpoint in the crowd. The camera then moves to a MS of Dylan, shot from side-on, low angle allowing for some space around Dylan, which gives the viewer a bit more of and idea about his current environment and his energetic and free-spirited demeanor while performing.
This festive pace then comes dramatic halt when the energy depicted in the opening scenes is cut by a poetic and silent overlayed montage of trees in the winter snow. The silence, which continues for around 10 seconds, is interrupted by a snippet from an interview with Dylan stating that “you can do a lot of things that seem to make time stand still, of course no one can do that.” Indeed, through juxtaposing the opening warm tones and festivities with the scenes of a cold, silent forest, Scorcese and Schoonmaker create a feeling of suspense and make it appear as though time is indeed standing still. A song by Charles E. Moody is then introduced from the chorus “…drifting too far from the shore” as the documentary continues with black and white images [supposedly] from Dylan’s childhood. A feeling of nostalgia now set in place, the documentary finally “kicks off” as Dylan reminisces on his childhood. The song, which continues playing beneath Dylan’s voice, further serves to colour the documentary in a fashion similar to the way in which it influenced Dylan’s early career. Voiceover and image eventually align, as we see a 60-something year old [present] Dylan, seated in an interview-type setting as he narrates his story to the camera.
The film continues as Dylan depicts his childhood in a small town in Minnesota, where severe economic and weather conditions set precedent for an industrial mindset needed to survive, leaving no room for any sort of rebellious ideals. As Dylan speaks, scenes are displayed of mining land, machinery, workers and Dylan’s father’s electrical store, where Dylan was meant to learn about “hard work and the merits of employment”. But of course we know that this is not how life eventuated for Dylan, the influential musician who went on to win Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Awards, and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By beginning their documentary in this way, Scorcese and Schoonmaker set the scene for the film’s narrative which is a depiction of Bob Dylan, the musical revolutionary and rebel who drifted too far from home.
Scorcese, M 2005, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, American Masters, Paramount Pictures.
Image: © SBS.