Boots of Spanish Leather - Part 4

by Patrick J. Webster

685 words on

A significant detour via Stanley Kubrick and Isis


In returning to ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ from where I left off about a couple of months ago, it still seems to me that the most relevant aspect to the song is the way it subverts the idea of masculine travel in Dylan’s work.

This, to restate is, in my opinion, one of the dominant themes in Dylan’s work, and it seems to me that in order to fully discuss this concept I have to significantly detour to another song - to one of Dylan’s most significant songs, or at least in my opinion, one of the most significant songs in Dylan’s canon.

The song in question is ‘Isis’, perhaps a topical song to deal with as the recently released collection: The Bootleg Series Volume 5 - Bob Dylan Live 1975 - The Rolling Thunder Revue - to give it its long and rather cumbersome title - prominently features ‘Isis’, both on audio and DVD video.

If I had to choose just one song that defines Bob Dylan’s underlying message then it would undoubtedly be ‘Isis’. It is a song that deals with a richly diverse range of significant issues and a song Dylan consistently performed (both in the studio recording and in the many live recordings of the time) with a great sense of verve and braggadocio.

Over the course of last summer - researching the films of Stanley Kubrick - one theme I found in the films is the idea of a journey. But not just a journey, a journey that is always markedly gendered towards the masculine, a journey that has an overarching circularity to it, a journey that nearly always involves a reluctant return to a feminine domain, and a journey that has, to some extent, an Oedipal juncture.

We see this in nearly all of Kubrick¹s latter work, it is there in Eyes Wide Shut, in which Tom Cruise’s character undergoes a nightmarish journey through both his conscious and unconscious fears and desires. It is there in Full Metal Jacket, wherein Joker and the other recruits undertake a nightmare journey into the Vietnam War - wherein they either live or die at the hands of a decidedly monstrous female presence. It is there in The Shining, wherein Jack Nicholson¹s character undertakes a journey to a haunted hotel - only to find another monstrous female presence lurking at its heart. It is there in 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein a crew of male astronauts travel into a different wild and unknown country - only to be returned - born anew. And so on throughout other Kubrick films, it is even there in the Kubrickian unaccomplished and the Spielbergian accomplished film, A.I. A film, it seems to me, that was a valid but failed attempt to create nothing less than a postmodern fairy tale. A film in which a young android, David, undertakes a very Oedipal journey from his mother out into the wild unknown country of robots and then back to a very different version of his mother.

Now I do not suggest a commonality between Dylan¹s work and the films of Stanley Kubrick. Quite the opposite, however, it would seem that they cover exactly the same thematic ground, and interestingly in exactly the same cultural and social space - and incidentally a similar ethnic space - by this I mean an American-Jewish, male response to a post World War Two landscape. Kubrick¹s work stretching from 1953-1999, Dylan’s work from 1962 to the present.

Bob Dylan’s song ‘Isis’, presents us with a hero who marries a woman and then mysteriously sets out on a journey, encounters another man, has a series of adventures and then eventually returns to the woman he has left. As I previously intimated this is a song of some significance, and hence one I want to look at in detail. Thus next time, in a detour (what might turn out to be a rather long detour) from ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’, I want to turn my attention to some of the issues raised in Bob Dylan’s epic work of 1975/1976, ‘Isis’.


2001: A Space Odyssey