The Freelance Mentalists.
Thursday, February 09, 2012
  Renaldo and Clara: Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Renaldo and Clara is currently streaming in its midwinter, mid-'70s, sufficiently sharp and spacey or spacy entirety, Rolling Thunder 'cross the YouTube. I haven't heard the Bootleg Series Rolling Thunder, don't know how  it compares with the movie's music (the old Hard Rain live LP has some good R Thunder performances). The flick's three hours-thirty-odd minutes, but very episodic, no prob with breaks. Don't know why it got such bad reviews: you get mostly really good, already speculative re-arrangements of songs from early 60s to recent past, and the whole thing is also a continuation of the troubled relationship dynamic re Blood On The Tracks--not a rolling cinematic break-up album, but scenes (before and after a voice-over of tourmate Anne Waldman's "Fast Talking Woman"), with restless women,sometimes impulsive, sometimes ready to bargain, yet wry, sly, not buyin' any alibis (this time!), and somewhat befuddled men, the latter (and mebbe the former) inching towards middle-aged crazy.
Meanwhile the already middle-aged men, like Ronnie Hawkins, Allen Ginsberg and Ramblin' Jack (ditto a certain  well-seasoned, singing, guitar-playing gypsy hostess) thrive in the spotlight. Lonesome campfire cowpoke Ramblin' Jack has no problem fronting a big old electric band (a generation before A Stranger Here, where he's equally at home with the likes of Van Dyke Parks and David Hidalgo). Ginsberg recites from "Kaddish," one of his best long poems, in a hospitable mash-up with the tweaked beat of live "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", as Sarah D. delivers the word to a cabbie: time to throw Harry Dean Stanton a lifeline over the wall. He gets out, keeps doing great "Who Mee?" attempts at being casually on the lam, either before or after Dylan trades him Baez for a getaway horse. She settles down with Harry, explaining that the ever-budding Renaldo is like a jumpy burro, rolling stone etc.
Folkie nostalgia, the middle-aged macho implications of then-recent Outlaw Country (before and after a Columbia Records office guy blasting Willie's "Time of the Preacher"), even a tinge of Southern Rock, Scarlet Rivera's pre-Starbucks violin, visits to a Rez and urban New Jersey (African-Americans on the street discuss and sometimes argue about Hurricane Carter, who's also interviewed), Kerouac's grave and elsewhere in the neighborhood--it's all mulch fiction of Dylan's turf, which is surprisingly juicy in the Age of Punk and Disco (Gins also quite comfortably reading to the beat of the latter, and maybe the former, have to check again [so much slips through here]).
Only the late performance of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" seems ( though measured, so perhaps deliberately?) overdone, in terms of bellowing the chorus, despite previously unnoticed, maybe recently added details of sensitive piety (sung by McGuinn, natch) in the verses. Doctrinal implications now ride with  the usually universalist-seeming chorus, in context of possibly re-written verses, the whole song strapped to pale horse delivery, approaching sheer white light arena amplitude(compare this rendition to the much more agreeably affecting  performance on the '74 BD&TB tour's wonderful Before The Flood). Hindsight here re-affirms (and re-invigorates) the impression that the Endless Tour, preceded  by cash and interest re-infusions via treks and slogs with The Band, Rolling Thunder, TP & Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead (expectations thus pressure  of GD also led to glimpse of Endless Tour's rhythmic re-alignment, according to Chronicles) all have something to do with road as solution/counterworld to/for relationship and other ongoing crises/ impasses.(Not to mention Carnegie Hall, 1964: "It's Halloween, I got my Bob Dylan mask on." Now more than ever, fearlessly blasting through melting whiteface, icing on the cake.) Plus, this last part of the film  also portends certain signposts just up ahead, especially when Ginsberg recites from Gospel, re the women taking up His body and bathing it--Dyl's all ears.
Great sound and pungent 70s visuals. BD had already made the Scorsese connection after all, and maybe thinkin' (studies of) Cassavetes, director of antsy Dylan docs Pennebaker natch,  and hoping for success like that of Altman's Nashville, or Led Zep's Song Remains The Same? RAC's droller moments keep its Rolling Thunder rolling between those last two. Altman and Dylan even have Ronee Blakley's good work in common, so whaddaya want?.Why was it panned so deep, so decidedly, decisively (til it came ba-ack, via YouTube, at least) derisively, even young and youngish plain ol cranky about it? Maybe because you couldn't hit Pause or Stop and come back to it three hours or three days later in '78. But more to it than that, or maybe less, in another way. Your thoughts?  don allred
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