"Life isn't about finding yourself or finding anything," muses Bob Dylan early on in Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, the new Martin Scorsese tour documentary that debuted on Netflix and in select theaters last week. "Life is about creating yourself and creating things." Delivered in the singer's raspy voice during one of the modern day talking-head interviews in the film, it's one of those classic Dylan statements: cryptic, playful, and koan-like. But it's also a useful skeleton key for unlocking, understanding, and enjoying the pleasures of this fascinating riddle of a movie.
As many reviews have noted, Rolling Thunder Revue is itself an act of impish deception, a puzzling magic trick, and a self-conscious attempt at myth-making. If you're looking for a straightforward concert film, like Scorsese's The Last Waltz (which also features Dylan), about The Band's 1976 farewell performance, or a more conventional piece of biographical portraiture, like Scorsese's Dylan-focused No Direction Home from 2005 about the folk singer's turbulent 1960s, then you'll likely find Rolling Thunder Revue a bit maddening. Like Dylan himself, the movie, which chronicles the singer's freewheeling 1975 and 1976 tour (The Rolling Thunder Revue) of smaller concert halls featuring a rotating cast of opening acts and collaborators, often feels like it's putting you on.
What exactly does that mean? On a basic level, some of the material in the movie simply isn't true. For example, a few of the people interviewed in the film, like director "Stefan van Dorp" are actually made-up characters. (In the credits, Ocean's Eleven screenwriter Ted Griffin and Silence screenwriter Jay Cocks are listed as "humble scribes.") Many of the contemporary interviews feature real individuals: Dylan, singer Joan Baez, actress Sharon Stone, playwright Sam Shepard, and others telling stories that intentionally blend fact and fiction. To help you figure out exactly what's what, we've broken down some of the movie's mysteries below.