Blu-ray Review: Don’t Look Back

Musical documentaries tend to fall into two camps. Normally, they’re retrospective stories of band or artists, using interviews and archive footage. There’s also the concert film, which nowadays tend to feature the most main stream ‘pop’ular bands. In Don’t Look Back D.A. Pennebaker follows a young Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England. It’s rightly considered to be a classic and a watershed moment for music documentary film making.

Opening with the iconic Subterranean Homesick Blues video, which was allegedly actually shot at the end of the tour, Pennebaker follows the singer in taxis, backstage, at parties and performing. Dylan was just coming into his own as one of the best musicians in the world but seems to take it all in his stride. You can see why he was, and remains, so popular with many music fans. Don’t Look Back shows a side of a musician’s character and personality which seldom sees the light in the modern world of PRs, labels and managers.

Shot in black and white, the new 4K restoration looks incredible, helping to make it feel as exciting and vibrant today as it was on release. The off-stage shenanigans are what makes it such a fascinating watch. These include fascinating scenes with Dylan and Joan Baez, taunting of a Time journalist and his manager, Albert Grossman, undertaking contract negotiations. The access Pennebaker has is extraordinary. It seems unlikely that any filmmaker would get that now with such a high-profile star. Don’t Look Back is undoubtedly the best music films ever made and a masterpiece of documentation.

Director Approved Edition:

• New, restored 4K digital transfer, approved by director D. A. Pennebaker, with newly restored monaural sound from the original quarter-inch magnetic masters, presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary from 1999 featuring Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth
• 65 Revisited, a 2006 documentary by Pennebaker
• Audio excerpt from a 2000 interview with Bob Dylan for the documentary No Direction Home, cut to previously unseen outtakes from Dont Look Back
• New documentary about the evolution of Pennebaker’s filming style
• Daybreak Express (1953), Baby (1954), and Lambert & Co. (1964), three short films by Pennebaker
• New conversation between Pennebaker and Neuwirth about their work together
• Snapshots from the Tour, a new piece featuring never-before-seen outtakes from Dont Look Back
• New interview with musician Patti Smith
• Conversation between music critic Greil Marcus and Pennebaker from 2010
• Alternate version of the film’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cue card sequence
• Five audio recordings of Dylan songs not used in the film
• Trailer
• Plus: A booklet featuring an essay by critic and poet Robert Polito

Don’t Look Back is released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as part of the Criterion Collection on Monday.

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