Jeez, the first documentary was "Don't Look Back", and almost 40 years later, Bob Dylan still has no direction home, and he's about two years away from just going ahead and telling us that he's not there. Maybe Bob Dylan should have looked back, so he could figure just where in the world he is, because at this point, he just sounds like he got lost somewhere along way. Either that, or he keeps assuring us that he really isn't going back. I can't tell, because Bob Dylan has always been kind of hard to understand, so I was going into this documentary really hoping that Martin Scorsese could tell me exactly what is up with good ol' Bobby D, mostly because if Big Brows is going to make me sit through a two-and-a-half documentary about Bob Dylan, it better be informative. Seriously Marty, you couldn't spend an extra thirty minutes or meditating upon the life and times of the Dalai Lama in that one rushed, only 134 minute long biographical "epic", and yet, you choose to have a documentary break the 200 minute mark? Well, in all fairness, maybe this documentary stands to be little bit longer, because they barely touched on Bob Dylan's childhood as a young black boy, and barely went in depth on his career as a man's man, who's clearly a woman; I figured they would have brought that up. So yeah, as you can tell, "I'm Not There" is still my favorite biographical piece on Bob Dylan, which isn't to say that this documentary is bad, because this is quite the fine product that Scorsese has put together, yet it is to say that it's not the most enjoyable study on the folk rock legend, and for a few reasons.
As interesting as Bob Dylan's life and career is, I was going into this film dubious, thinking that they couldn't pull off a three-and-a-half hour long documentary on the folk legend, and yet, upon actually seeing the film, I can comfortably say that, of course, I now know that they couldn't pull off a three-and-a-half hour long documentary on the folk legend. No, but seriously though, on the whole, this documentaries sprawling length is made to fit like a glove, yet that stretch isn't always a terribly comfortable one. The documentary goes bloated, with repetition and excess footage, not just of Bob Dylan, but of many, many fellow and inspiring folk singers, whose incorporation, or rather, at times, crowbaring into the documentary leaves its focus to fall into momentary inconsistency, occasionally to where it exacerbates the documentary's ever so mild, yet still rather present convolution, spawned mostly from the pacing being all over the place. Okay, maybe "all over the place" is a bit of an exaggeration, as the film is rarely too slow and is hardly ever, if at all too hurried, yet the film's momentum remains somewhat inconsistent, with consistency at least being in the fact that either side of pacing spectrum has occasions where it was too much, as the film gets to be ever so occasionally overbearing and often a tad dull. The film's steam takes quite the number of blows, leaving it, for all extents and purposes, to collapse under the immense pressure, maybe not to mediocrity, yet still decidedly to some degree of blandness. As it stands, however, this documentary stands as quite the satisfying one. I don't know if this film delivers because of my rule that if a film is over three hours, then it better be good, or whatever, yet eitherway it goes, this documentary gets to be piercing, and just often enough for it to stand out as very much well worth the watch.
The written and Martin Scorsese's directorial structure of this documentary is rather unique, with consistent intrigue amidst a gradual rise in resonance that mirrors the story structure of an impacting feature film. Sure, this rise isn't always smooth, yet it gets there, and gets there with a kind of cleverly manipulated dramatic energy that gives the documentary a degree of scope that borders on sweeping. I don't know if you could consider this some kind of epic documentary, yet the fact of the matter is that it is so broad and cinematic, with dynamic dramatic appeal that gives the film both an enthralling grandness, as well as a sense of the complex dynamicity within both Bob Dylan and the music industry to which he belonged and, to a considerable degree, influenced the same way it influenced him. If all else fails and the dramatic aspects fall dim amidst such a lengthy study, it's still hard to not find yourself engrossed, as the documentary is simply extremely fascinating, with a strong attention to detail and insight that may also may have its spotty occasions, yet generally cuts deep in its analysis of its subject. The way the countless clips of rare and deeply insightful footage, interviews and overall material is assembled together, and atmospherically enhanced by Martin Scorsese's direction, is unique and theatrical, making such a narrative as a mere series of footage flashbacks, framed around people in an interview, feel vast, yet still concentrated. Even with spotty moments in the midst of a sprawling runtime, this documentary is consistently engaging, if not simply entertaining, on the whole. Flaws still stand and tear at the final product, yet at the end of the day it will probably take you to watch this, it's hard to not walk away generally satisfied by this both sweeping and insightfully detailed study on the life and ever a-changin' times of Bob Dylan.
Overall, the lengthy runtime is achieved by such not-so commendable means as some repetition, as well as some excess footage that throws inconsistency in the documentary's focus and renders it ever so occasionally convoluted, a situation made worse by a somewhat uneven pacing, yet where the film could have fallen flat, it is, much like Bob Dylan in "Pressing On", well, pressing on, carried by a fascinating attention detail that creates engagement value, augmented by a unique structure and execution that gives the film a degree of sweeping dramatic scope and the intriguing insight that helps in making "No Direction Home" a generally satisfying, thoroughly engaging sprawler of a portrait on folk music and, most of all, one its most legendary icons.
3/5 - Good