- Roads Rapidly Changing: In and Out of the Folk Revival, 1961–1965 by Bob Dylan
The British company Chrome Dreams has produced a new documentary, Bob Dylan, Roads Rapidly Changing, which takes on the years of Dylan’s rapid ascent from the “basket houses” of Greenwich Village to international fame. Dylan’s artistic development during this four–year span (1961– 1965) is well documented and has long fascinated scholars, critics, and fans, and in that sense, Roads Rapidly Changing does not cover new ground. But this new documentary does have merit because it tells Dylan’s early story crisply and with attention to the cultural and musical forces that were at work at the time. It also compiles a wide range of Dylan material (video and audio) making it a useful resource for teachers.
Interviews are the film’s backbone, and the list of contributors includes a broad mix of Dylan experts: journalists (Nigel Williamson, Patrick Humphries, Derek Baker), critics (Robert Christgau, Antony DeCurtis), Greenwich Village impresarios (Izzy Young, Art D’Lugoff, Harold Leventhal), and folk musicians (Eric Anderson, Maria Muldaur, Peter Stampfel, Martin Carthy). Dylan himself was not interviewed for the project, nor did he endorse it. Rather his contributions come from his recordings from this era, as well as an array of early interviews, film clips, concert footage, and television appearances, many of which will look familiar to viewers of Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, Scorsese’s No [End Page 603] Direction Home, and Lerner’s Festival! Yet Roads Rapidly Changing feels fresh due in part to its incorporation of period footage specific to the subjects being discussed. Some of this historical footage appears to be drawn from color 8-mm stock, which makes the context intimate and vibrant. Editor Tom O’Dell does a solid job of stitching these many elements together, while still leaving room for the music to speak for itself. Some of the film’s strongest moments are extended musical examples. In the “Songwriting” chapter, for example, two early songs (“Hard Times for New York Town” and “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”) are both used effectively to demonstrate Dylan’s creative. Later, particular emphasis is placed on the musical ingenuity of “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” and the lyrical punch of “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” The film provides ample evidence throughout of Dylan’s tremendous importance as a songwriter and cultural observer. We are not just told he was great, but shown why that accolade was earned.
The film has a few weaknesses. Some of the concert clips do not include their original sound, but rather have other recordings or stock music mapped onto them. Also, many of the onscreen attributions are fleeting, making it difficult for a first-time viewer to keep track of the sources. The DVD “extras” include biographies of the contributors, but the font choice is difficult to read. In addition, some parts of the film could have benefited from more narration to fill in contextual gaps. But overall, Roads Rapidly Changing is a useful addition to the sea of Dylan materials because the breadth of materials it brings together and the insights it offers.