VISIONS OF EMBARGOES
Ed Bark is stuck inside a screening room with the can’t-talk-about-this-movie blues again
BEVERLY HILLS, California – Now you see him, or else you don’t. The secretive society known as Bob Dylan and his ‘people’ called the tune for PBS (think ABC, but with explicit corporate sponsorship) last week. It was something of a protest song, but more a marketing ploy tied to September’s DVD and PBS unveilings of the Martin Scorsese-directed No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Here’s how it went down.
PBS told TV critics in late spring that their only opportunity to see the 3-hour film would be on the night of July 13 at a closely guarded theatre screening in Beverly Hills. No review copies would be sent out between the screening and PBS’ Sept. 26 premiere of the film as part of its acclaimed ‘American Masters’ series. Critics were also strongly encouraged to keep their opinions to themselves for at least the next two months.
This is hardly business as usual. In an increasingly crowded TV universe, PBS and rival networks routinely send shows to critics weeks and often months before their air dates. But No Direction Home would be a glaring exception. Why? Because Dylan and his manager, Jeff Rosen, who interviewed him for the film, are either paranoid or pragmatic about piracy.
‘The Dylan people say that he is the most bootlegged artist in the world’, PBS president Pat Mitchell said in an interview. ‘And they are terrified that if screeners are sent out, the next thing we know it would be all over the Web and everything else. As you might imagine, it’s a challenge working with someone of Bob Dylan’s stature and reputation, and his history of being very much in control of his product.’
There will be plenty of product this spring. An expanded DVD edition of No Direction Home will be in U.S. stores a week before PBS presents its two-part version. A double CD set with ‘key songs’ from the film hits stores around the same time. And ‘The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-66,’ retailing for $45, is due to arrive shortly thereafter. Still, there’s no official Bob Dylan ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ harmonica coming – yet.
Meanwhile, ‘American Masters’ executive producer Susan Lacy tried to make the best of the situation before last week’s screening at the Zanuck Theater on the Fox Studios’ Hollywood lot. For the record it was preceded by an outdoor Mexican food buffet accompanied by beer, wine and piped-in show tunes.
‘I truly think this film is a masterpiece’, Lacy then told 100 or so critics. Dylan ‘has not seen it. We don’t think he ever will.’
No Direction Home is only about the early performance years, 1961-66, of the now 64-year-old legend. There is ample ‘never-seen’ footage provided with Dylan’s blessing. Much of it is extraordinary, capturing both the tenor of the times and a vibrantly young Bob making his way from traditional acoustic folk tunes to electrified versions that initially stunned and angered audiences.
‘I think he’s prostituting himself’, says a miffed Britisher during Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe.
Joan Baez contributes a new and candid interview while the current-day Dylan’s diction at least is clear. He otherwise reveals little of any real substance about either his music or himself.
Baez says she long since has given up trying to figure him out. About all we really know is that he’s definitely a capitalist.