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Bob Dylan

The Other Side Of The Mirror: Live At The Newport Folk Festival
Columbia Records/ Sony BMG Entertainment
www.bobdylan.com


Film director Murray Lerner's latest DVD/CD ROM release The Other Side Of The Mirror: Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 showcases concert performances by Bob Dylan all filmed in black and white. The footage covers Dylan's shows at Rhode Island's famed Newport Folk Festival in the years 1963, 1964, and 1965. What is important about these years for Bob Dylan is that this was a pivotal time for him, documenting his rise into stardom. Audiences see him go from a humble folk artist having a common appearance like the guys in the audience in 1963, to being a world renown star by 1965 garbed in a black leather jacket, wooly hair, and showing the confidence of a seasoned musician that makes audiences feel star-struck. This manifestation happens by the time Dylan is 24 years old in 1965.

Lerner creates an intimate setting for the audience with close-up shots of Dylan as he is singing. Many times, Dylan's facial features and body frame are silhouetted in blackness so you feel like you are watching Dylan in the backroom of a bar and not at a gigantic music festival. Only when Lerner pulls the shot back and you see the smallness of the lighted tent where Dylan is singing and the sea of people around it do you have a sense that this is a big event. Lerner includes footage of Dylan singing many of his hits during this period including "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Like A Rolling Stone," "Maggie's Farm," and "Blowin' In The Wind" which features the background vocals of folk singer Joan Baez, the vocal group Peter, Paul And Mary, and the vocal harmony quartet The Freedom Singers. Lerner shows complete performances by Dylan with one short clip of Johnny Cash at the 1964 Festival encouraging the crowd to applaud Dylan for his set before going into his own song.

Lerner does not show any interviews with Dylan in the film, but he does show a short interview with Joan Baez talking about the kids in the audience and how Dylan fulfills their need to say those things that they want to say. Lerner also includes footage of Baez's and Dylan's live duets at the 1963 Festival for the song "With God On Our Side" and at the 1964 Festival for the songs "It Ain't Me Babe" and again "With God On Our Side." In 1963, Dylan seems to be overpowered by Baez's husky vocals, but by 1964, Dylan's vocals are more pronounced and limber as he puts more chord movements in the songs so they sound fuller. The 1965 Festival shows Dylan trading his acoustic guitar for an electric one but still relying on the acoustics of a harmonica, which he borrows from an audience member. It's a scene that is ironic, because by 1965 Dylan has played on both sides of the Atlantic and had as much money as the politicians whom he was saying in his songs are getting rich by exploiting the common folks, and here he was doing the same.

Lerner concludes the film with Dylan singing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and the final shot is a lonely microphone stand on stage while the crowd applauds fervently as if pleading for Dylan to sing more. It is folk singer Peter Yarrow, who is the Master Of Ceremony at these festivals, that says about Dylan, "He has his finger on the pulse of our generation" in the film, and that sums up Dylan's mystique. His songs spoke of the concerns of America's youth in the years 1963-1965 and gave them the words that they were searching for to express themselves. Lerner's film stays mesmerized on Dylan's performances so his viewfinder becomes a fan of Dylan. The shortcoming of shooting Dylan like this is that the film never shows the audience's link to Dylan's music, it has to be inferred. Lerner comments in his "Interview" segment on the disc that Dylan was a "High Priest" for these audiences. Back in the early '60s, Dylan was credited for motivating nonconformity among America's youth, but looking back, Dylan was like anyone else in the crowd only he could write striking lyrics that made people stop and think about their actions and the actions of others. Luckily, Dylan was provided a platform to speak his mind out loud and Lerner filmed it.

Lerner's film documents a time that has passed, and yet, it has relevance by inspiring modern day musicians to communicate what their generation is trying to say, whether that be to question people in positions of authority and influence or to make observations about the world around him. More than anything though, the film has sentimental value for the people of Dylan's generation. For Lerner, making this film allowed him to romanticize about a time that changed his life for the better, and people of Lerner's age will find this film meaningful.

-Susan Frances


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