A dozen Bob Dylan concert clips — some never before publicly screened — were shown Sunday at the House of Independents in Asbury Park, as part of the second annual Asbury Park Music in Film Festival. Personally selected by Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen, they give a taste of what is in Dylan’s personal archive, which was recently sold for an estimated $15-$20 million.
And they were stunning — particularly the three clips that, attendees were told, were being shown for the first time, anywhere.
One is an outtake from Dylan’s 1978 movie “Renaldo and Clara” (filmed in 1976): a raging, chaotic performance of “Isis.” When the camera zooms in on Dylan’s eyes, they convey an almost crazed intensity.
Another is a “Ballad of a Thin Man,” filmed by documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker during a 1966 tour of the British Isles, for a film that was never released. Dylan sits at the piano throughout, and Pennebaker’s camera remains fixated on him. At times, Dylan raises his left hand to make dramatic, emphatic gestures as his right hand continues to play. Members of The Band backed Dylan on that tour, though only bassist Rick Danko is, at times, visible; Garth Hudson’s organ riffs, though, which echo Dylan’s vocals in a call-and-response manner, are prominently featured in the mix.
The third “debut” was an acoustic performance of “Tombstone Blues” from an afternoon workshop of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The song was still unfinished at that point – Dylan didn’t have a chorus yet — and so he just sang the verses.
A fourth clip was not said to be making its public debut, though I certainly haven’t seen it before, and was blown away. It was a performance of the gospel song “Pressing On” from a 1980 concert in Buffalo — again, filmed for a project that was never released. It was the show’s fervent, show-stopping finale: Dylan starts at the piano, then moves theatrically to the front of the stage before exiting, as his band keeps playing.
Also shown: television performances of “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Girl From the North Country” from 1963 and 1964, respectively; a “Chimes of Freedom” on which Dylan seems particularly delighted, from the 1964 Newport Folk Festival; a hard-driving, electric “Maggie’s Farm,” with Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar, from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival; “Shelter From the Storm,” from the 1976 TV concert special “Hard Rain”; “Ring Them Bells,” filmed at The Supper Club in New York in 1993; “Love Sick,” from the 1998 Grammy Awards; and “Cold Irons Bound,” from the 2003 movie “Masked and Anonymous.”
One of the interesting things about watching these films in sequence was seeing the sharp change in Dylan’s demeanor, through the years. In most of the clips through “Pressing On,” in 1980, he looked directly at the audience (or into the camera), and really seemed to be trying to reach out to people. In 1993, 1998 and 2003, he tends to be less animated, and less concerned with the audience: even though he’s onstage, it almost seems as if he never leaves his own inner world.
As a nice bonus after the screening, photographer Danny Clinch talked about his experiences shooting Dylan over the years — with Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli moderating — and showed some of his Dylan photos, including some that have never been used for any project or shown in public before. Clinch, Santelli and Rosen are all APMFF board members.