The Return of “Renaldo and Clara?”

By Steven Gaydos

In the nearly 50 years of Bob Dylan’s avidly-observed professional life, his semi-autobiographical 1978 film “Renaldo and Clara” is viewed by his faithful fans as either a somewhat embarassing Achilles Heel that reveals Dylan’s inability to translate his musical genius into cinematic gold or a Holy Grail of revealing personal insights and visual and aural poetic rhapsodies woefully unappreciated by those who haven’t reached the 9th Level of Dylanology.

So when the culture site LitKicks.com announced on January 19 (http://www.litkicks.com/RenaldoAndClaraToBeFinallyReleased) that the film, unreleased since a disastrous and quickly aborted theatrical run in the late ’70s, was about to get the Dylan camp’s blessing for commercial DVD release, the Dylan fan sites began reverberating with excitement and renewed debate about the artistic merits of Dylan’s rambling blend of psychodrama, concert footage, blackout skits and cinema extremely verite.

“Dylanologists rejoice!” proclaimed Levi Asher on the site, announcing “I’ve heard from a semi-reliable source that Renaldo and Clara, a much-discussed and little-seen 1978 epic film by Bob Dylan, will soon be finally released on DVD.”

Well, I have bad news for Levi Asher. I’ve heard from one extremely reliable and high-placed source inside the Dylan team and from another source outside the team, but very much in touch with them on a regular basis, that “It Ain’t True, Babe.”

When asked about Asher’s report, the Dylan associate (who requested anonymity, which is of course SO Bob), said simply, “Nope.”

There are, however, reports that the original footage is getting worked on in New York City to hit Blu-Ray standards. One knowledgeable source speculated “maybe (Dylan honcho) Jeff Rosen is going to do a Rolling Thunder Bootleg Series project and this is why T-Bone Burnett (another illustrious Thunderer) and Roger McGuinn have recently done film interviews about Rolling Thunder.”

In the meantime, there’s a great new book about the “Renaldo and Clara” project and corresponding Dylan tour called the Rolling Thunder Revue to keep Dylan fans immersed in both the arcane and the awesome work of ’70s era Dylan. It’s called “Shelter From The Storm”  (http://www.sidgriffin.com/2010/02/07/sheter-from-the-storm-by-sid-griffin/) penned by Mojo contributor and ace musician-sognwriter himself, Sid Griffin.

And if you JUST CAN’T WAIT for Sid’s book to hit your mailbox, here’s a little taste of the mayhem and music that was Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour.

First, witness Bob in his Marcel Marceau meets the Munch Scream face paint phase from the film:


This other clip features my favorite Byrd Man, Roger McGuinn, who was one of the many Rolling troubadors, a gang that included poet Allen Ginsberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Mick Ronson from David Bowie’s Spider from Mars and more. I’m sure the long sober McGuinn must find it hard to watch today because he could get high all over again just from the Peruvian vibes that positively blast out of the screen all these decades later.