Here are the quick movie reviews for The Beach Bum & Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.
The Beach Bum
“He may be a jerk, but he’s a great man. He’s brilliant,” says Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen), the heavily neglected daughter of Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), in The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s latest exploration into hedonistic human disasters. Heather’s father is an acclaimed poet, his artistic genius seemingly on the decline, who lives in the Florida Keys with a lifestyle in the vein of Hunter S. Thompson. His drug-addled living, though, doesn’t seem to be holding him back, because Moondog is also quite rich, thanks to having married money in the form of the sexually voracious Minnie (Isla Fisher). Moondog lives entirely on his own away from his family, partying his day away. But it’s his daughter’s wedding that brings him back home to bring the ruckus. And it’s not before long, while he’s there, that tragedy strikes.
Following up Spring Breakers, Korine returns not just to the gorgeously scuzzy Sunshine State full of pure debauchery, but also to its seductive sense of style: the dreamy smears of tropical nightlife color, coupled with a fluid flood of montage. All of which is brought to blissful life by the master of color himself, cinematographer Benoît Debie. The colors brought to The Beach Bum by Debie are vividly vibrant, full of sublime shades for every second of the runtime. The freewheeling camera continually follows Moondog from bar to beach to boat and back again as his low-key journey unfurls. Rather than bounce McConaughey’s cackling crackpot against any kind of foil or straight man, The Beach Bum surrounds him with supporting players only a hair less outrageous: Jonah Hill, doing a Foghorn Leghorn meets Colonel Sanders accent as the owner of a country club; Martin Lawrence as a coke-addict and self-proclaimed dolphin expert; Zac Efron as a rehab escapee with a very panini inspired haircut.
Matthew McConaughey in The Beach Bum
Much like Spring Breakers, while The Beach Bum may be a funny, enjoyable watch and look like a celebration, its a wholehearted condemnation. For a guy who launched his career with the script for Kids, Korine has since learned to couch his screeds in irony and flaring style. It’s in that said irony in The Beach Bum where there is a clear mock and critique of those who only party and vacate their responsibilities, an examination of the so-called “desirable” life. Though the film seems to exist in the hazy headspace of its protagonist’s party-till-you-puke ambition, the lurking melancholic sense of his fantasy becomes clear: A life of hedonism is in no way desirable or truly lively.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Conventional wisdom dictates that Bob Dylan’s legacy is a monolithic thing, unassailable yet sprawling enough to touch the borders of nearly every other cultural movement of the last five decades. “Life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything,” Dylan says at one point. “It’s about creating yourself.” At seventy-eight, the musician moves into a new phase of self-creation with this intriguing, fascinating and at times perplexing documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. This hybrid documentary adds much to Dylan’s mythic-like figure, offering an unexpectedly substantive blend of performances, fiction and behind-the-scenes moments that both defend and further mystify him.
Rolling Thunder Revue opens with silent-era footage of a magician, setting up themes of conjuring and our willingness to believe illusions. The mirror metaphor has been applied endlessly to Dylan — are we seeing what he’s projecting, or simply what we want to see? — but it’s suitable in these silent opening frames, especially as this film invents situations and people for the sake of this mischievous narrative. 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 those things in order to be none of those things.
Assembled from an immaculately restored motherlode of 16mm footage shot by Howard Alk and David Myers, and sprinkled with a fairy dust of unlabeled fiction, Rolling Thunder Revue is a mythic story of self-invention. It’s a carnival barker of a film, luring you in with baubles and promises and quietly swindling you while it entertains — blurring the line of fact and fiction until it often runs invisibly. It’s Scorsese’s delirious attempt to capture the manic energy of an idea that’s too powerful to retain any kind of permanent shape. As a whole, it keys in on so many supporting characters that Dylan becomes little more than a beacon or a binding agent. The archival footage focuses as much on Allen Ginsberg’s unfulfilled musical ambitions as it does on Dylan’s backstage persona. It’s between occasional song performances that Scorsese is eager to shine a light on personalities like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
As the film goes along some of its bits are more compelling than others, but a prolonged sense of disorientation helps smooth out the space between them. Rolling Thunder Revue doesn’t allow the sands of time to remain settled for long, as Scorsese clouds the archival footage with present-day talking head interviews (which includes Dylan’s first on-camera interview in over a decade) that subtly and mischievously blend truth and imagination until it starts feeling like you’re not watching a historical document about the ’70s so much as you’re hearing the distant echoes of a song that you already have stuck in your head; this isn’t the past or present but rather both at once. There will never be another Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, but that doesn’t mean they never truly existed as we remember them. They were always in a state of creating themselves, and driving across a country that was never as whole as it wanted to imagine.
Rolling Thunder Revue is available to stream on Netflix now!
Images: Neon & Netflix