The Oscar-winning director MURRAY LERNER talks to UNCUT about The Other Side Of The Mirror, his brilliant concert movie of Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963 – 1965.
NH:Was Dylan a key performer at Newport in ’63?
I don’t think he was, no. Pete Seeger was, and Joan Baez. She was on the cover of Time magazine. And she brought Dylan to the festival. In ’64, as she said, they were the King and Queen of Newport. He walked the streets with a bull-whip, with her beside him.
Looking at the film now, how does he appear to you?
You see ease and a simple person in ’63. And in ’64 you see he feels safe enough, when he sings “It Ain’t Me Babe”, to not really care about the crowd. I don’t think even with “With God On Our Side” in ’64 that he really was with the crowd. It was just him, and Joan.
When he comes on at the end in ’64, he gets a hero’s welcome…
Right. There was also something I don’t think he ever did in his life since that day. He said to the crowd, after “Chimes Of Freedom”, “Thank you. I love you.” He was happy. That was an unusual song, there was less realism than before. He might have wondered how accepted it might be.
He played an electric set in 1965, which was met with a lot of resistance from the audience. What was the mood at the rehearsals like?
It felt to me like there was a little bit of uncertainty as to what was going to happen. It seems to me there was anxiety, in their joking around.
What could you hear on stage, after he came on and played “Maggie’s Farm”?
I heard a combination of boos and applause. And some catcalls. And then when he came back and did the acoustic songs, they got with it again. He was nervous when he came back, there’s no question about it. That was sweat you can see rolling down his face. And on “Mr. Tambourine Man”, asking for a harmonica from the crowd – the fact that he forgot his harmonica…
You can see his eyes swivelling in those close-ups…
Yeah. You don’t know what he ingested also before that, to keep him going. Then when he did “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” he was okay, I thought.
Also saying goodbye to the whole thing…
That’s right, yeah.
What does the film’s title refer to?
It’s the sense that he’s introduced as the mirror of his generation, but he isn’t. That’s why I put Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers introducing him – “You know him, he’s yours” – at the start. He really isn’t yours!
Have you kept in touch with him?
It’s difficult to know him. And I felt better off not trying, because I wasn’t his type. Because I never took drugs.
What did you feel, looking back at this footage?
I feel as if I’m still there! Whenever I watch it, I’m at the Newport Festival. Most times, I feel I’m watching something new. The songs are really so startling that I feel every time I’m hearing something new.
How did you feel about Scorsese getting the credit for making this great film about Dylan, No Direction Home – when nearly all the key footage is by you and DA Pennebaker?
I was flattered that he used it, and that he put my name underneath the footage. And I was of course jealous of the fact that it was being used. My feelings were complicated. It got me this film to make, which was good…
INTERVIEW: NICK HASTED
The Other Side Of The Mirror screens on BBC 4 on Sunday , October 14, 9.40pm, as part of the Dylan At Newport Night.