Bob Dylan is not a man who is easily embarrassed. Eat the Document, A long-buried film about his 1966 tour of England, is finally seeing the light of day – and it brings new meaning to the term “warts and all.” Director D.A. Pennebaker made Eat the Document as a follow-up to his acclaimed Dylan study Don’t Look Back. Document was originally intended for – but then rejected by – ABC-TV. Later, Pennebaker’s version was re-edited by Dylan and cameraman Howard Alk; only now is it getting a limited theatrical release. Pennebaker followed Dylan on his second European tour with the Hawks (who would soon become the Band), filming them onstage and off in a jittery, hand-held cinéma vérité style. Like Dylan’s music at the time, the resulting Document is raw and restless, revealing and riveting.
Plugging into an electric guitar pushed Bob Dylan to a musical peak; it also created a huge controversy among his reverent folkie followers. Throughout Eat the Document, Dylan is defiant, almost reveling in the taunts and catcalls from the audience. A succession of fans castigate the former folkie as a “sellout” on camera. After the show, besieged in the back of a limo, Dylan denies his autograph seekers with a sardonic laugh: “No! I saw you booing!”
In the road-life scenes, Dylan and his entourage seem to act for the camera and to interact with the real world at the same time, and the sights and sounds are indelible: Dylan locking guitars with an unrecognizably young Robbie Robertson on “Like a Rolling Stone,” harmonizing with an angelic-looking Rick Danko on “One Too Many Mornings” while the audience claps and jeers in unified derision. “They can boo till the end of time,” Dylan said in a mid-Sixties interview. “I know that the music is real, more real than the boos.”
This story is from the November 11th, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.