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TAKE THAT CAMERA OFF OF ME - I CAN'T USE IT ANYMORE

by MARK CARTER

I recently picked up a DVD containing all of Dylanís promo videos - some two dozen in all - beginning with To Ramona in 1965 and ending with 2000ís Things Have Changed and taking in all of the Wilbury ones along the way. Not only was the quality of many of them better than some of those that I had acquired over the years, usually tucked in between hours of ropey audience footage that I would never want to watch again or - worse still - lost entirely, thanks to my recent spates of video pruning, but they were in chronological order and allowed me to be reminded of just how rocky his link with any camera and/ or director trying to help him promote his own song has been during the past couple of decades. 

The Empire Burlesque ones are especially dated now - all big hair and shoulders -and itís hard to imagine that there may even have been a time when they were considered cutting-edge. Tight Connection is Miami Vice with extra gloss and no content. The shot of a powder blue wig bouncing down a flight of stairs provides an early unintentional laugh. It would not be the last. Lest we are not sure that it is a scene of immense importance, we get it twice; once from the bottom of the stairs looking up and once from the top looking down. No wonder Dylan was so horrified with the results when he saw it. Even mid-80s Dylan must have realised that the quality control of everyone involved in that particular little epic was absent throughout. 

Following that, he went black and white for the next couple, but with little improvement. When The Night Comes Falling can probably best be described as a performance video without the performance. 

The half dozen Wilbury s promos are best when theyíre trying not to be wacky. Handle With Care can probably be described as a classic, unfortunately The Wilbury Twist cannot. What is interesting is seeing how Dylan was forced to embrace humour in at least three of them Ė Sheís My Baby, Inside Out and the aforementioned Wilbury Twist. Humour and Dylan have always been strange bedfellows, usually the two arenít even on speaking terms let alone anything else (save a brief glorious period in 1965) and these videos merely magnify how uncomfortable he must have felt. Bad enough that he has to lip-synch - a task patently beyond him - but to have to try and smile at the same time! 

His real tour de force, of course, has always been - and will probably always be -Series Of Dreams, interestingly presented on my disc as the raw uncut version as well as the computerised finished result that we all know and love so well. This is the one Bob Dylan video that I never tire of watching and his only one that really stands as a work of art. At the time, I kind of remember hearing that he was so impressed with the finished result that he was planning to use the same team for any future projects, and so it briefly seemed that Dylanís early 1990s might have contained more sparkle than they ultimately did. The next time he stepped in front of the cameras was for the home movie Blood In My Eyes, showing - for once - a very human and approachable man. Ten years ago, I likened him to a Pied Piper, leading his flock behind him as he mugged for the camera and, here in 2004, thatís still the image I see. For once the fabled and cliched armour was down and the real man briefly shone through. He seemed so happy, pity it couldnít last. I guess it never can. 

I hated 2000ís Things Have Changed promo when I first saw it - Dylan as the song and dance variety artist he was briefly rumoured to be becoming at the time, complete with straw hat and cane. All that was missing was the leg kicks Ė ďGive me the moonlight, give me the girl, and leave the rest to me.Ē Nowadays, I can appreciate it for what it is - yet another example of Dylan gamely trying to come to terms with a format that has eluded him since 1983. Thatís why Most Of The Time is his most powerful performance video, because he is allowed to sing the song live in whatever style and manner he feels like at the time. In contrast, Not Dark Yet can only bravely run a very poor second because, once again, someone decided it would be better for Dylan to lip-synch rather than just do what heís best at. 

Some footage from Masked And Anonymous would have been a nice addition tucked on the end so that we could see in a two-hour trawl how he has aged and how much he has changed and how little he has really changed. It was also a shock to see him as recently as 2000 without his little moustache - it sometimes seems as though heís had it forever - and with a little bit of stubble around his old chops, which has always suited him better. Somehow, without the moustache, he didnít look so.....daft. 

Yes, I think thatís the word I'm looking for. Sorry, Bob.
 

Take that camera...

 
 
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