For years, rumors have circulated among Bob Dylan fans that a documentary about his legendary, star-studded “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour of 1975-76 was in the works, and occasional whispers had a name attached: Martin Scorsese. Now, the cat can come officially out of the bag. Variety has exclusively learned that Netflix plans to release the movie in 2019, with the director’s name actually in the title: “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.”
The tightly-under-wraps project is said not to be quite as much of a straightforward documentary as Scorsese’s previous Dylan film, 2005’s “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,” which zeroed in on Dylan’s crucial 1965-66 “going electric” period. “There’s a reason the word ‘story’ appears in the title,” said a source, hinting that the director may be playing with the form more in this particular film.
Upon further inquiry, Netflix provided Variety with a thumbnail description of the film that ups the tantalizing ante. “’Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese’ captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream, ‘Rolling Thunder’ is a one of a kind experience, from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.”
No release date has been set. When Variety asked about a rumor that the film might appear as early as this spring, a source countered that, saying that even the announcement of a premiere date remains “months away.”
One of the few details Netflix did confirm about the movie is that Dylan himself was interviewed for it, which doesn’t necessarily go without saying, since the artist rarely allows himself to be interviewed off-camera, let alone on. A participant in the Rolling Thunder Revue tour confirmed to Variety that many of the alumni of that period have done interviews for the movie over the past few years, with most if not all of them conducted by Dylan’s longtime manager, Jeff Rosen, as was the case with “No Direction Home.”
The list of names we might see in the film, whether in present-day interviews or just vintage footage, is a fairly mind-boggling one. The Rolling Thunder Revue was conceived as a sort of loose caravan that involved the presence of poets and writers as well as past and future music luminaries. And all of them were presumably caught on film, as Dylan prepared his infamous “Renaldo and Clara” movie as well as a TV special. Among the tour participants: Joan Baez (reuniting with Dylan for duets after a long gap), band leader Bob Neuwirth, Roger McGuinn, T Bone Burnett, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ronee Blakley, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Allen Ginsberg and Sam Shepard (who published a book about the tour in 1977). Others showing up for isolated shows or appearing in the studio included Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Patti Smith, Bette Midler, Kinky Friedman, Dennis Hopper and Phil Ochs.
It’s not known whether all these faces will appear in the movie, especially as Netflix’s description indicates the film will focus on the fall 1975 tour, when the loose ensemble was said to be at its ramshackle best, and not necessarily the spring 1976 follow-up, when different guests came aboard and reviews indicated the collective had lost some of its charm.
The “fever dream” aspect of Netflix’s thumbnail description may lead buffs to wonder if Scorsese will be borrowing a few cues from Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” film, which received only a brief release in 1978 and has never been released on home video, aside from bootlegs. Although the initial four-hour cut was hardly well received, the fictional vignettes that were shot for the project continue to be a source of fascination for Dylan buffs. (Dylan’s then-wife, Sara, played Clara, while Blakley played “Mrs. Dylan,” in one example of the vintage film’s mischief.) The more theatrical nature of the 1975 shows was heightened by Dylan appearing in whiteface in many of them.
If it does turn out to be an autumn release, that would dovetail nicely with unconfirmed expectations that the film will be coupled with a boxed set of unreleased material that would be part of the “Bootleg Series” that Sony Music puts out a new installment of every fall. At one point, both these things seemed destined for last fall. In 2017, without mentioning Scorsese’s involvement, a source in the Dylan camp told Rolling Stone that a Rolling Thunder documentary and accompanying “Bootleg Series” set might come out in the fall of 2018, possibly incorporating material from Dylan’s adjacent “Blood on the Tracks” period. That rough plan obviously changed, as the “Blood” recordings got their own dedicated box this past November, leaving the door wide open for “Thunder” to get its multi-disc due in 2019. But Netflix and Sony have not confirmed plans for a soundtrack or accompanying set.
Assuming that a “Rolling Thunder” boxed set will appear, it will be the first time the “Bootleg Series” has returned to an era already covered in Dylan’s archival collections. The third release in the series, back in 2002, was “Bob Dylan Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue,” but that was a mere two-disc set structured pretty much like a straight live album, and was thought of by fans as a lost opportunity, before the “Bootlegs” began expanding to six or eight discs at a clip. There are few other eras in Dylan’s vault that buffs are as eager to see opened up, and the fact that most or all of these gigs were professionally filmed as well as recorded has whet appetites for more than 40 years.
“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” is not the only thing on the titular filmmaker’s plate in 2019, of course: He’s also been working with Netflix on “The Irishman,” a project that was announced four and a half years ago. That may be nothing compared to how long the Dylan film has been in the works, with some saying they were interviewed for the project as long ago as the late 2000s. “Irishman” is the one with a budget reported to be $140 million or more, but don’t tell Dylan fans that “Rolling Thunder” won’t also be epic.