Monday, October 15, 2007

The Other Side of the Mirror – vital addition to the Dylan catalogue

Last night’s screening of The Other Side of the Mirror - Dylan at the Newport Festival 1963-1965 (BBC Four, to be repeated on Wednesday) was riveting – the definitive document of the emergence of a great, rare talent.

The 1963 segment shows a precociously gifted young singer playing the role of diffident, unassertive folkie to perfection: he gives his audience what it wants. Highlights are North Country Blues (performed seated) and Only a Pawn in Their Game. The writing is breathtaking, the performances searing.

The middle year has one great performance - Chimes of Freedom. Dylan’s beautifully sung version of one of his leading compositions is probably the highlight of this must-see film. The rest of the 1964 section is blighted by unwelcome intrusions.

The 1965 kiss-off, with the electric band, is magnificent to behold – great performance art, supremely confident performances of Maggie’s Farm and Like a Rolling Stone by Dylan and his well-chosen accomplices.

Visibly affronted by the mixed reaction to the electric set, Dylan’s acoustic encore has him playing as if his life depended on it. He’s never been more commanding than he is on Mr. Tambourine Man and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.

Throughout the 80 minutes, Dylan’s evolving singing voice is magisterial. We are lucky that the film was a low budget project (shot on one, maybe two, cameras) – because it forced its director to point the lens at Dylan for the duration. Murray Lerner simply recorded the performances - nothing else is allowed to get in the way.

The Other Side of the Mirror is a vital addition to the Dylan catalogue. Though the BBC transmitted the whole 80 minutes, I’ll probably end up buying the DVD, too – just so I can edit out the unwanted distractions of 1964.


All I Really Want To Do (1965)

North Country Blues
With God on Our Side (with Joan Baez)
Talkin' World War III Blues
Who Killed Davey Moore?
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Blowin' in the Wind (with the Freedom Singers, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary)

Mr. Tambourine Man
Johnny Cash, Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
Joan Baez, Mary Hamilton
It Ain't Me, Babe (with Joan Baez)
Joan Baez interview
With God on Our Side (with Joan Baez)
Chimes of Freedom

If You Gotta Go, Go Now
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Rehearsal (with electric band)
Maggie's Farm (with electric band)
Like a Rolling Stone (with electric band)
Mr. Tambourine Man
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Gerry Smith