Martin Scorsese Controversy: Why Did Acclaimed Director Prank His Audience in New Netflix Film About Bob Dylan?

Jun 18, 2019  •  Post A Comment

Roughly 10 minutes of Martin Scorsese’s Netflix film about Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” consists “of prankish fake-documentary footage, like something out of a Christopher Guest movie,” writes veteran critic Owen Gleiberman in Variety.

Disappointed and angry, Gleiberman writes, “In the movie, all this [fake] stuff is executed with deadpan drollery, in a spirit of high malarkey, that sounds harmless and fun. And maybe it is. Yet the fact that I was nearly seduced into palming off a blatant fabrication as fact kind of bugged me. It rubbed up against my journalistic instincts and made me bristle. I didn’t feel delighted — I felt played. And the fact that I liked the rest of the movie so much didn’t mitigate the irritation; if anything, it only increased it. Scorsese, working with mountains of footage from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, had crafted a burbling, live-wire, turbulently vital portrait of Bob Dylan in the mid-’70s that felt kaleidoscopic in its authenticity. The movie puts you right on that tour, letting you brush up against the look and mood and spirit of a by-gone era. The film’s time-machine purity is its calling card. How, exactly, does making shit up fit into that?”

To read Gleiberman’s full review, please click here.


  1. Haven’t seen the film but Gleiberman’s irritation certainly seems in keeping with the Bobster – albeit channeled through Scorcese.

  2. Both Scorcese and Dylan have made straightforward music documentaries. They are also both genre men – they explore and master the tropes of a genre and bend it to their purposes . With the Rolling Thunder film they tackle the rock “mockumentary”; they are parodying a parody.

  3. There is a smugness to Scorcese’s pranking that is grating. The controversy that he must have known would ensue speaks more to PR than art, an insurance policy to make sure the film got attention. As in the past, the commercial shelf life of painted Dylan and friends is likely to be limited, which is a shame, as the music is compelling.

  4. I love Bob…and to a lesser extent Scorsese…and I don’t generally believe in conspriacy theories…but I feel that the two of them here are, consciously or or subconsciously, airbrushing history. I remember ‘Renaldo and Clara’ vividly. Alot of it was VERY intimate and personal about Dylan’s relationship with his wife Sarah. And they had a very bitter divorce by all accounts. She doesn’t feature AT ALL in the Scorsese film NOR does anything about the making of ‘Renaldo and Clara’ AND it is, so far as I can see, IMPOSSIBLE to now get hold of ‘Renaldo and Clara’. By adding in the fake bits to the current Scorsese film [ the fake politician, fake Sharon Stone stuff, fake filmmaker] – and even referring to the omission of anything about Sarah by having the conjurer at the beginning make the woman disappear – Dylan and Scorsese I imagine think they can be absolved of airbrushing history by sort of confessing to it. Also, presumably, the tagline ‘A Bob Dylan Story’ lets Scorsese off the accusation that he [Scorsese] is doing the airbrushing. Yes we all know that the truth is complex and the borderline between TRUTH, FICTION and MYTH is often unclear. But is this any excuse for leaving out a large element of the Rolling Thunder story – an element that one can see might be uncomfortable for Dylan. I leaves a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.
    Actually – Bob Rosen and Bob Dylan note – that could be easily rectified by re-releasing on the internet ‘Renaldo and Clara’ so we get THAT version of the truth alongside the current Scorsese one.

  5. Anyone expecting a “peep-hole” documentary that focused on Dylan’s divorce, or pretended to reveal the “Truth” about the tour hasn’t been paying very close attention to Dylan. The music is a revelation, and there are plenty of folks interviewed who were there and share thoughtful reflections. The playful jabs at the docudrama that digs dirt and pretends to reveal far more than is really the case are, for me, witty and mostly successful.
    The real revelation is the music. While I have heard most of it on various bootlegs over the years, as well as on an old VHS tape of Renaldo & Clara, the music-making is tremendous. Scarlet Rivera is captivating, driving the songs to new heights. Her connection with the songs and with Dylan get to the heart of why the music has aged so very, very well. Mick Ronson is also well served by the live footage. The band cooks and Dylan is dynamic. The era and the tour are well-served by Scorsese’s “story.”
    Giving Ginsberg the the last word was touching and effective. Showing the dates as the credits rolled of the thousands of live concerts Dylan has given since 1975 was a reminder that Dylan has kept on creating, long after the phenomenal tour of 1975. Bravo!

  6. Agreed….the performances and music are suberb. And that IS the main thing. And the listing of Dylans continuous live performances at the end was a very apt touch. ( I saw him in Paris in April. And he was great. Seemed to manage to take what he had learnt from performing the ‘Great American Song Book’ / Sinatra songs over into the way he did his own slower songs – such as ‘It Aint Me Babe’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice Its Alright ) I’m not remotely interested in a ‘peephole’ documentary about Dylan’s divorce. I’m only interested in Dylan the artist. And the thing is ‘Renaldo and Clara’ was DYLAN’S film – part of his artistic output. So I still think there’s something very odd, and not quite right, about the current Scorsese film not mentioning ‘Renaldo and Clara’ at all and having NO Sarah [ as either the song or as the person in Dylan’s film] Maybe there’s something to do with the terms of the divorce settlement banning it? But, if so, it would be honest to tell us. Unless, I suppose, they’re not even allowed to tell us that.

  7. Let’s not forget that Dylan plays along with most of the hoaxes in this film. Check out the sections of the interview with him where he mentions Scarlet taking him to see Kiss, Sharon Stone’s alleged presence on the tour, the ‘Van Dorp’ and Sam Shepard collaboration etc. etc. Scorsese obviously didn’t produce this film without both Dylan’s agreement and co-operation.

  8. Having worked on projects similar to this, you are at the mercy of availability. I have a fairly large collection of Rolling Thunder boots. Which leads me to the question “where were all the ensemble perrformances?” Shocked that so few of the performers were included in this “documentary.”`

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