Watch Eat the Document
- 52 min
Eat the Document is a seldom-seen and little-known rock documentary that chronicles parts of Bob Dylan's 1966 tour in the United Kingdom, which was notable for being the period when the artist made the contentious transition from acoustic folk to electrified rock music. This shift caused a significant stir within the folk community and among his fans, culminating in the infamous "Judas" incident during a concert in Manchester. The film is a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Dylan during a transformative and turbulent time in his career.
Directed by Bob Dylan himself under the pseudonym Bob Johnston, and edited by filmmaker Howard Alk, Eat the Document is a concoction of scenes that vary from concert footage to candid moments captured off stage. Not meant to be a conventional music documentary, the film stands out due to its disjointed and avant-garde style, representative of the experimental trends in cinema and music of the late 1960s. It has a free-flowing structure that reflects the inner chaos and the relentless creative energy surrounding Dylan during that era.
Bob Dylan stars in this documentary, and he is accompanied by an assortment of musicians who would become legends in their own right, including The Band's members Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. Viewers are given a unique view of the group's dynamic and their relationship with Dylan as they transition from backing band to a standalone force in music history.
The film includes performances of Dylan's electric set, which were particularly controversial at the time. However, Eat the Document is not exclusively comprised of these snippets. Between the musical performances, there are various impromptu conversations, encounters with fans, backstage antics, and other vignettes that provide a candid, though sometimes puzzling, look at Dylan's life on the road. A standout feature of the film is Dylan's elusive personality, which comes across as both enigmatic and compelling, making it a magnet for fans and followers interested in the mystique of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the twentieth century.
Although primarily shot in black and white, there are portions of the film that contain color footage, adding a surreal quality to the documentary. The editing style is notable for being non-linear and slightly disorienting, mirroring the intensity and confusion faced by Dylan during this chaotic period. The film jumps from one location to another, one conversation to the next, rarely giving context or explanation, leaving interpretation largely up to the viewer.
A scene that often catches attention is Dylan's taxi ride with John Lennon, a candid piece that reveals the interplay between two titans of music. Both admired and challenged by one another, their exchange is one of the documentary's valuable gems. It provides a rare, unfiltered look into their personalities and the weight of stardom during the apex of the rock and roll era.
Beyond music, Eat the Document touches upon the broader cultural and political turbulence of the 1960s. Dylan, often viewed as a voice of his generation, seems both a contributor to and a product of the zeitgeist. The documentary captures the sense of rebellion and experimentation that characterized the times.
It's worth noting that Eat the Document was originally commissioned as a television special for ABC but was rejected by the network due to its unconventional style. Consequently, the documentary has maintained a somewhat legendary status due to its limited availability. It was never granted an official wide release, making it something of a Holy Grail for hardcore Dylan enthusiasts and documentary purists. Its elusive nature contributes to a mystique that keeps interest in the film alive, fostering a sense of discovery for those who manage to find and view it.
While its esoteric nature might make it less accessible for casual viewers, Eat the Document is nonetheless a critical piece of rock and roll history. It portrays an artist at the cusp of a significant change, not just in his own musical direction but one that reflects the greater cultural shifts of the time. Like Dylan's move from acoustic to electric, the film itself challenges norms and expectations, inviting audiences to experience the disordered and impressionistic journey of an artist in transition. For fans of Dylan, the history of rock music, or experimental film, Eat the Document remains a captivating, if enigmatic, artifact from a time when both music and cinema were being reinvented.