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How Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini inspired a Bob Dylan classic


Inspiration can strike a singer like Bob Dylan anywhere. Dylan wrote at a furious pace in the throes of his early days on the road as the new voice of a generation. He gathered metaphors as easily as a glass vase gathers dust, attracting far-reaching nuggets of universal truth without so much as a single move toward them. During the sixties, it wasn’t just Dylan and the rest of the new rock movement who were making waves; it was also a decade in which cinema was finally given the credit it deserved.

Classic films, the kind of pictures now regarded as pop culture milestones, were being released with increasing regularity. Two directors who led the charge were the unstoppable Alfred Hitchock and the always stylish Federico Fellini. In these two directors, Dylan managed to find artistic counterparts and a huge slice of inspiration for one of his more underrated songs.

Bob Dylan is a man of style and taste; that much was patently obviously even from his self-titled debut in 1962, which explored the upcoming pitfalls of a new generation with consummate ease. Whilst his stature in this regard may have been on the rocks a bit during the mid-eighties, we’ve all seen the video of him at the ‘Feed the World’ shoot, in the sixties, he was near enough reinventing the world cool with every single release, every utterance, every piece of footage.

One such release, ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’ on Another Side of Bob Dylan, released back in 1964, solidified his status as a classy customer as he took on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho and even threw in reference to Federico Fellini’s iconic sun-drenched flick, La Dolce Vita too. Both films released in 1960 are considered pivotal moments within cinematic history and have inspired countless stylistic spin-offs. The Beatles also notably chose Hitchcock’s film as a jumping-off point for one of their songs. But Dylan’s adoration of Hitch’s nightmarish thriller is far more obvious.

Over the top of his classic early folk stylings, he transposes Hitchcock’s iconic Psycho plot, lending a comic twist to the murderous screenplay by combining it with the classic joke of a travelling salesman taking up lodgings in a farmhouse only to be lured by the farmer’s daughter. Ultimately it wouldn’t be a song from the ‘spokesman of a generation’ if it didn’t work in some sort of political statement as Dylan, unlike Marion in Psycho, is saved by the freedom of speech act and its necessary power to antagonise.

It showed once again Dylan’s strength as a narrative songwriter, but as the record’s title suggests, it also showed a more humorous side to him too. It allowed Dylan to show he truly was a child of the counter-culture. He was using art, his own and others, to create a statement of intent few could turn away from.

Check out ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’ below.