I recently bought the Criterion release of Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Yes, I could have watched it for free on one of the many streaming subscriptions I pay for but infrequently watch. But I wanted the supplementary materials, especially the Scorsese interview. His Mean Streets and The Last Waltz are both on my top-ten list.
Most of you reading this post probably already know the movie is a mixture of fact and fiction. Although there’s a lot of standard concert footage and talking-head interviews, we also get Sharon Stone’s fantasy account of attending a concert, and an interview with the fictional director of the tour footage, Stefan Van Dorp.
IIn the interview with Scorsese, he explains that the unusual narrative of the film was a by-product of the fact that Dylan simply doesn’t remember a whole hell-of-a-lot about the tours, which left him to search for a coherent structure. Just having Dylan tell the story wasn’t going to work. Most interestingly, Scorsese says he found what he needed in a fairly obscure Iranian film, Close-Up, by the renowned director Abbas Kiarostami.
This comment got my attention since I’m a fan of Iranian cinema. I’ve watched many Iranian films, including several of Kiarostami’s. I highly recommend them. They often have a seriousness and integrity that US cinema has mostly lost. A warning though. To our Western eye the films are a bit slow, so have a pot of coffee at the ready. He who perseveres will be rewarded.
Close-up is not one of Kiarostami’s more well-known films (for those, see Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us). It’s based on the true story of a man who was put on trial for impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf, another famous Iranian writer/director. The film uses footage from the trial, and the actual people, not actors.
During the trial, the accused admits his guilt. But says he did it because the director’s films spoke to him so deeply, that the artist said the things that he himself felt but could not put into words. Therefore, impersonating Makhmalbaf was not completely a fraud because, in a way, a part of him really was the director. They had the same feeling and thoughts.
Close-Up kept coming back to Scorsese as he pondered how to do the film. The Stefan Van Dorp character was the result. Scorsese says Dylan fans, and even himself, are drawn to Dylan because he says what we want to say, but can’t. In that way, he really is a part of us. We – like Van Dorp – want and feel like his art is a part of us. And it sort of is.
I thought this connection between Close-Up and the documentary was really interesting. I hope some of you do as well.