1966-1978 After The Crash (DVD)

Bob Dylan

Chrome Dreams, 2006

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/30/2008

In 1966, Bob Dylan was involved in a motorcycle accident that, ironically, may have ultimately saved his life. Fresh off his triumphant Blonde On Blonde album, Dylan was coming off a two year blur that included alienating his fans by going electric, releasing three undisputed classics, wild tours and a near-constant supply of amphetamines.

If you are looking for a great fictitious account of this period, check out Cate Blanchett’s wiry performance in last year’s film I’m Not There.

The motorcycle accident forced Dylan to slow down and reflect on those turbulent years. And as Dylan healed, the political environment grew more volatile with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, the escalating war in Vietnam and the still red-hot civil right tensions in the South. It was a time that cried out for a Dylan protest anthem, but after the motorcycle accident, Dylan retreated inward, embraced country music and wrote songs that focused more on his personal life than the world around him.

Dylan’s post-crash period is examined in the documentary Bob Dylan 1976–1978: After The Crash. It was made in association with ISIS magazine, a respected journal dedicated to Bob Dylan. However, it also was made without the authorization of Bob Dylan. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The documentary begins at Bob Dylan’s accident and ends in the late-‘70s with his conversion to Christianity. During that time, Dylan embraced country music, released a career-killing album (Self Portrait), went on to make one of the greatest albums in rock history (Blood On The Tracks), enjoyed a successful career with a side project called The Band and dabbled in acting. For precious few musicians, this would be a lifetime achievement, but for Dylan, this was only known as his “roaming” period.

The lack of access to Dylan’s music catalog definitely lessens the impact of After The Crash, but it’s not a fatal blow to the documentary. The documentary shows a live performance of “Girl From the North Country” with Johnny Cash and a jittery Dylan. In addition, movie footage of Dylan’s performance in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is also shown. Unfortunately, whenever references to Dylan’s albums are made, the viewer is treated to the same stock shot of a tape recording in a studio.

If some of the same stock footage is annoying, the interviews are equally frustrating. One such interview was with Al Aronowitz, a music journalist. Discussing Dylan’s crash, Aronowitz, the first journalist to interview Dylan after the accident, said with a slight laugh “He made it sound very dramatic … he said ‘My whole life passed in front of me’.”

While Aronowitz suspected Dylan was putting him on, it is fair to mention that Dylan most likely broke a few vertebrae in the accident, something that would definitely cause most people to have their life flash before their eyes. Unfortunately, that’s about as much insight as we get for the initial accident.

While After the Crash is far from perfect, there is enough material to keep even the most casual Dylan fan interested for two hours. The documentary mercifully steers clear of being a total Valentine to Dylan. Albums such as Street Legal and Nashville Skyline have their fans and detractors, ranging from critics to former Dylan musicians. And like all good documentaries, After The Crash makes you want to experience the material firsthand once the credits roll.

It’s unfair to compare After The Crash to the much superior No Direction Home. The latter had Dylan’s cooperation, was directed by a masterful director and most likely enjoyed a significant cash flow. If No Direction Home is the masterpiece that you’re supposed to study in college, consider After The Crash to be a good student paper on a specific period in that masterpiece.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrome Dreams, and is used for informational purposes only.