This post will examine the opening sequence of Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home (2005). First, I will explore some of the documentary forms and techniques employed, followed by an analysis of theme, foreshadowment and expectation.
The opening sequence of No Direction Home (2005) begins with Bob Dylan on a stage, playing a show, singing to a crowd. Although unlikely, particularly with any assumed knowledge being reiterated through promotional material, even if the audience isn’t aware it is Bob Dylan, we know that this film is about a musician. The edit breaks abruptly; the image that replaces the colour and excitement of the rock concert is stark white, old film black-and-white with beautiful silhouettes of trees through heavy snow. Scorsese and Schoonmaker are telling us that this is going to be an Expository Documentary with Performative elements, as they adhere to a generally Expository format (archival footage, interviews with overlay) yet use performativity as a tool.
The abrupt edit to the stark-white, snowy silhouettes incorporates performative actions. It is not a conveyance of factual information, it is there to make us feel something. The abrupt edit itself, in both the sound and image, elicits shock and uncertainty in the viewer. It is evocative, artistic and allows the viewer to draw their own meaning. All of these are performative elements. However, this opening sequence shows us that Scorsese and Schoonmaker have not set out to portray the entire film this way. Rather, they use these techniques as a tool to break away from the flow of the documentary at choice moments.
Some further discussion may be to examine the experimentation with duration. On each watch of this sequence, I have a moment of being convinced that something is wrong during the moment of silence accompanied by the very first silhouette. It is beautiful coupled with the voiceover of the subject, “Time… you can do a lot of things that seem to make time stand still. Of course, no one can do that…” Arguably, the filmmakers did just that (they seemed to make time stand still). The expectation is set up that, not only is this film going to be artistically aware, it is going to explore issues of time, perhaps, getting away from us; running out too fast.
Here, we begin to receive some foreshadowing about the themes and/or premise of the film. So, to recap, we have learned the subject of the film (Bob Dylan), the form and style of the film (Expository with Performative/Artistic elements) and the feel of the film (generally flowing with occasional, deliberate breaks in pace).
…drifting too far from home…
These lyrics of the musical soundtrack accompany an image of, presumably, Bob Dylan’s childhood home. We know this because the film is black-and-white, there is superimposed text stating ‘Many Years Earlier’ and Dylan starts to tell a story about his childhood, with the audio of his interview layer over the soundtrack.
What follows are a number of foreshadowing hints about what is to come. The soundtrack fades out and the visuals are a close-up of Dylan as he tells of how the music from an old, mahogany radio made him feel like he wasn’t even born to the right parents. The filmmakers make a point of drawing attention to this. Home, family and displacement from both of these are going to be major themes of the film to come.
The filmmakers also make a point of using archival footage that is edited to compare a lively town to a decrepit one. With these visuals, alongside Dylan’s narration, abandonment is elicited. Then, the sum of all of this: becoming an outsider/outcast. The product? Rebellion. Naturally.
The filmmakers tell us that we are to hear a story of: distance/displacement from home and family; abandonment of, and abandonment by the subject, Bob Dylan; identity as an outsider, and; rebellion. “There was no room to rebel” – as an audience we know that this is both said and included only because rebellion came. Even if unaware of Dylan as an artist, we understand that the musician in this film is one of protest, controversy, and rebellion and that the reason they are that way is due to the those foreshadowed themes discussed.
Scorsese, M. (Director). (2005). Bob Dylan: No Direction Home [Motion Picture].
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