Bob Dylan managed to become one of the greatest cultural forces of his time due to his unparalleled songwriting abilities which were deeply influenced by the art that he loved and the sociopolitical realities he witnessed. For Dylan, cinema was always a chief source of inspiration and he actually attempted to become a filmmaker himself.
His most famous directorial effort is a four-hour experimental feature titled Renaldo and Clara which consisted of concert footage and vignettes of Dylan’s work as well as his personal life. The aesthetic frameworks of the film were deeply rooted in the seminal investigations of the French New Wave which changed cinema forever.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan expressed his admiration for the film movement. He said: “I figured Godard had the accessibility to make what he made, he broke new ground. I never saw any film like Breathless, but once you saw it, you said: ‘Yeah, man, why didn’t I do that, I could have done that.’ Okay, he did it, but he couldn’t have done it in America.”
In addition to Godard, Dylan was also fond of other influential European filmmakers like Federico Fellini whose work left a lasting impression on the music legend. Enduring masterpieces such as La Strada and La Dolce Vita were screened at a local arthouse theatre and after attending those screenings, Dylan was a changed man.
While reflecting on the carnivalesque vision of cinema that Fellini championed, Dylan wrote about his own memories of watching a Fellini film for the first time. “It looked like life in a carnival mirror except it didn’t show any monster freaks – just real people in a freaky way,” he explained. “I watched it intently, thinking that I might not see it again.”
Throughout his life, there were many films that had a meaningful impact on Dylan’s journey – especially works like Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause and Richard Brooks’ Blackboard Jungle among others. However, there were two filmmakers who inspired Dylan to create art more than any other pioneers of the medium – John Ford and Charlie Chaplin.
While insisting that John Ford was the master of the visual narrative, Dylan wrote: “If film is the ultimate art form, then you’ll need to look no further than those films.” Ford’s body of work has become an indispensable part of world cinema, having influenced other directors including the likes of Akira Kurosawa as well as Steven Spielberg.
On the other hand, it was Chaplin’s unique sensibilities which taught Dylan a lot about the world we inhabit and he might just be Dylan’s favourite filmmaker. Dylan said: “[Chaplin] influences me, even in the way I sing. His films really sank in. I like to see the humour in the world. There is so little of it around. I guess I’m always conscious of the Chaplin tramp.”