The scrawny kid in the newsboy's cap who arrived in New York's Greenwich Village in the winter of 1960 was not yet Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's illuminating biography (PBS, Sept. 26 and 27, 9:00 p.m ET; also out on DVD) makes that crystal clear. He was a nearly empty vessel, with only a modest talent and a set list of memorized folk songs from stolen LPs. Dust Bowl folksinger Woody Guthrie was his hero, and Dylan headed east not only to find his idol, but to become him. And he did for a while, before New York's rich gumbo of beat culture, poetry, and music filled and nourished him, like Popeye's spinach, and kaboom! Bob Dylan, "spokesman for a generation," was born.
Scorsese and his talented editor manage in four hours to present what 40 years worth of bios, books, and film on Dylan have failed to deliver - a clear picture of the man and the talent that burned so brightly; a palpable feel for the time and place and mood of JFK's America; and detailed, decipherable commentary from Dylan himself, on all facets of his life and music.
Included are many charming early performances that should make a fan out of even the most ardent Dylan critic. And when he and his cacophonous band plug in in 1965, even the most devoted fan may want to reach for the remote. Such is the mystery of the man - a walking, singing contradiction and a fascinating subject for one of our greatest filmmakers.