Access is unsung parent of documentary inspiration, and since Barry Feinstein was exclusive tour photographer on Bob Dylan and The Band’s legendary world tours of 1966 and 1974, it stands to reason that simply pointing a camera at him and having some interesting conversations about his reminiscences would be enough to merit and substantiate said project.
Bob Dylan: World Tours 1966-1974 chronicles the titular troubadour through the lens of Feinstein, showcasing over 150 selections of the photographer’s finest portraits, many revealed here for the first time. Feinstein, who was a cameraman on Easy Rider and Monterey Pop as well as the director of the cult movie You Are What You Eat, sits for an extended interview, as do other figures of note like rock journalist Al Aronowitz, respected documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back), actor/Band drummer Mickey Jones, Izzy Young and Bruce Langhorne. But Gilbert — who looks like a scruffy cousin of The West Wing’s Richard Schiff on a very windy day — is a novice interviewer at best, and his piecemeal approach makes his film a herky-jerky, two-hour collection of passingly interesting anecdotes squeezed in around long, indulgent B-roll footage. The movie is tolerable when offering glimpses at Feinstein’s camera lenses and proof sheets of years gone by (particularly affecting are photos of a cheerful Dylan with Liverpool kids who have no idea who the music icon is), but the cloying voiceover about aging hippie ethos is interminable.
In a weird effort to fill in the years in between Feinstein’s two world tour bookings, Gilbert bums around Woodstock, Manhattan and Greenwich Village, where he investigates Dylan’s secluded life before his return to the road in ’74. It was of course a motorcycle accident (tediously recreated here in Unsolved Mysteries fashion, to mind-numbing effect) on the tail end of the first tour that supposedly led Dylan to withdraw from the public spotlight. I say “supposedly” because that’s the language that Feinstein uses; he doesn’t necessarily believe Dylan truly broke two vertebrae in his neck, but rather merely wanted to take some time to pull back and get his life in order (kick various illicit habits, the subtext seemingly reads). This is a valid conspiracy theory, I suppose (I wasn’t there), but Gilbert tosses out a few wan follow-up questions before letting the intriguing strand die on the vine. The film as a whole follows.
A very specific if glancing document of its word-slinger subject, Bob Dylan: World Tours 1966-1974 is also a sideways portrait of music history, when folk music and rock ’n’ roll merged into something new and different, something that inspired folks like Gilbert who might have otherwise gone on to entirely boring and respectable careers as investment bankers or real estate brokers. Similarly obsessed ’60s completists might find some redemption in this filmic one-off, but others will want it to simply fade away.