Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese ★★★★

Even after 45 years, no one can agree on why Bob Dylan called that tour “Rolling Thunder Revue” — it might be one of those things that only gets more elusive over time. The “Revue” part is easy enough: Dylan was famous enough to do what he wanted, but too frazzled to do it alone, so he extended an open invitation to the best minds of his generation to join him for a series of intimate shows across the United States; it would be a folk happening and a freewheeling gypsy caravan and a chance for a busful of beautiful seekers to go out and look for whatever it was they were trying to find.

The reason for “Rolling Thunder,” on the other hand, is a bit harder to pin down. Some say that Dylan was inspired by a storm that clapped its way across the East Village. Others have suggested that he borrowed the name from the Chief of the Iroquois people living on the Tuscarora Reservation. Could it really have been just a coincidence that a countercultural movement shared the same title as the U.S. government’s not-so-secret mid-‘60s bombing raid of North Vietnam?

Dylan himself doesn’t seem to remember. “‘Rolling Thunder’ was about nothing,” he scoffs at the start of Martin Scorsese’s mesmeric and thrillingly unsure new documentary fantasia about the tour, the singer staring at his feet and shaking his head as he chafes his way through his first on-camera interview in more than a decade. “I don’t remember a thing about it — I wasn’t even born.”

It’s but one of many points of contention in “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese,” a rambling magic trick of a movie that reanimates a hazy chapter of American history by unmooring it from the facts of its time, and even perhaps from time itself. Splitting the difference between Todd Haynes’ impressionistic “I’m Not There” and Scorsese’s own previous Dylan film (the more straightforward “No Direction Home”), “Rolling Thunder Revue” isn’t a concert doc or an act of archival preservation or yet another dithering nostalgia trip back to a decade when everyone was young and everything seemed possible — it’s all of those things in order to be none of those things.

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