(Credit: David Shankbone)

Martin Scorsese talks about Bob Dylan, ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ and ‘The Irishman’

Though Martin Scorsese may have presided over one of the best music documentaries in recent years, in fact, maybe ever, with his brilliant 2019 release Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, he’s now revealed that he and the main protagonist in the story, Dylan, haven’t spoken to one another in twenty years.

Considering the close proximity the pair shared in the documentary-making-process, it feels surprising that they haven’t connected in a while. But when you’re creating a working review of someone’s past, maybe getting too close can be a problem. In a new interview with the British Film Institute, the iconic director, fresh off the back of The Irishman success, opens up about working with Dylan.

“Once we had Rolling Thunder constructed, [editor] David Tedeschi and I looked at it, and I said, ‘It’s conventional,’” said Scorsese. “‘It’s just a film about a group of people who go on the road and they sing some songs. I’m going to have to start all over.’ We have to go with the music, maybe, go with the spirit of the commedia dell’arte. And then the words started to come in about possibly people who weren’t there, being there. [Laughs] That’s interesting. That’s a challenge, as they say. Let’s pursue that.”

Never one to shy away from a challenge, the director employed Sharon Stone as Dylan’s fictional girlfriend, even doctoring pictures of them together. That wasn’t the end of it either, Martin von Haselberg is cast in the role of the filmmaker Steven van Dorp, while Michael Murphy is given the role of fictional Michigan congressman Jack Tanner and Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos as a concert promoter.

“Let’s say Sharon Stone represents certain things,” Scorsese said. “What about the businessman, the marketing man? And that’s [the head of Paramount] Jim Gianopulos…So why don’t we not stop there? What about the filmmaker? Great. And he had to be taken advantage of. [Laughs] He possesses the performers, he wants to be them. It’s like us, making this… we love the music and the performers so much that the only thing we can do is photograph them and edit it, right? And we wanna be them. And no matter what, we’re left wanting more.”

Scorsese suggested that the new approach had influenced some of his recent pictures, with the CGI-based de-ageing of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in The Irishman being at the centre. “On certain films, I’m locked into a narrative — I used to say plot, but it’s more than plot, it’s narrative,” he said. “But I’ve been trying to break free of it, and tell stories in a different way, and I found that the documentaries helped me with that.”

Having directed two of the documentaries on Bob Dylan (2005’s No Direction Home was another Scorsese production), you’d expect Bob and Marty to be best pals. After all, Scorsese has likely watched more hours of Dylan performing than Dylan can himself remember. Alas, Scorsese confirms, “Last time I saw Dylan was at a big dinner for Armani, 20 years ago,” he said. “I met him a few times with Robbie Robertson. That’s about it.”

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