What do you think of Bob Dylan? Do you think of him as a folk visionary? Or do you think of the grumpy, older guy who mumbles through his music and his interviews? Either way, your perspective of him may change after watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese. The legendary director combines extensive footage of Dylan’s shambling 1975 tour with contemporary interviews to paint a picture of where Dylan — and the country — were at right before we celebrated the bicentennial. Read on for more…

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: For those who weren’t around at the time, the mood of the country in the fall of 1975, as it kicked off the celebration of the country’s bicentennial that would be celebrated the following July 4, was pretty bleak. The U.S. hastily left Vietnam in defeat after being there more than a decade; the economy was a mess; Nixon had just resigned in the face of Watergate charges the year before.

Bob Dylan had been jamming with some of his favorite musicians in New York and was hanging with people like beat-poetry legend Allen Ginsberg. He had toured arenas with The Band the year before, after not touring since the mid-’60s, and he wanted to go on a tour where a group of his buddies and musicians he admired would drive around in buses, play small theaters, and generally hang out and make great art together. Paired with a the fact that there was a demand for a Dylan tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue was born, co-headlined by Dylan and his former flame, Joan Baez.

Martin Scorsese put together footage from before, during and after that tour, shot by a number of filmmakers including Stefan van Dorp, with performance footage and contemporary interviews. Because it’s Scorsese, he was able to get contemporary interviews with Dylan, Baez, van Dorp, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the late Sam Shepard (who was brought on tour to try to create a scripted movie from it with van Dorp), and more. Even Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who documented the tour for Rolling Stone, Sharon Stone, who followed the tour as a teenaged model that Dylan befriended, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose incarceration on a false accusation of murder induced Dylan to write the song “Hurricane”, are interviewed. Where the person wasn’t available (quirky violinist Scarlet Rivera), or dead (Ginsberg), old interviews are used.

Altogether, a picture is stitched together of a tour that was pretty unique for its time, when slickly-produced arena acts were starting to dominate the concert scene. The Rolling Thunder Revue — named for a Native American chief — was more of a shambling roadshow, almost a carnival of music, where Dylan, Baez, and whatever superstar they happened to pick up along the way (Joni Mitchell joined in Connecticut and stayed for the rest of the tour) jammed for a few hours at every stop; they just happened to jam in front of a rapturous audience.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This isn’t Scorsese’s first music-related documentary — or even his first one about Dylan. If this has any sort of parallel, though, it’s his 1978 film The Last Waltz, chronicling the last concert of Dylan’s former mates in The Band.

Performance Worth Watching: The current version of Dylan can often be inscrutable and a bit grumpy during the rare times he agrees to be interviewed. Here, he was grumpy for sure, telling the interviewer that he doesn’t even remember the Rolling Thunder Revue. But as the 40-plus year-old memories come flooding back, we appreciated his perspective, and honesty, about the people he toured with and what the vibe was. Baez was also amazingly forthright, to the point where it seemed like she was almost annoyed that she was being asked about the tour, and what it was like to be with Dylan after they both moved on to new relationships.

But the most remarkable performances were from 34-year-old Dylan during the tour. The songs Scorsese included, many of them from his then-new masterpiece Blood On The Tracks and its follow-up, Desire, shows a Dylan, wearing eye shadow and whiteface (a tip he picked up from KISS… yes, the band KISS), engaged with his songs and audience. His voice was clear and loud, his passion was unwavering, and he had a determined look to give the audiences that came out the best show they’ve ever seen him play. Even though he’s toured virtually every year since then, he has never seemed more connected with the audience than he does in that footage.

Memorable Dialogue: “What remains of that tour to this day? Nothing. Not a single thing. Ashes,” says Dylan in the present day. Either he’s being grumpy or he’s talking about whatever goodwill that tour generated. Either way, he’s depressingly correct.

Sex and Skin: A couple of archival photos of topless protesters, but that’s about it.

Our Take: We are not avid fans of Bob Dylan, but we are Scorsese fans, and we knew that he could make contemporary sense out of a tour that happened when we were in nursery school (yes, we’re so old it wasn’t even called “preschool” back then). We were also confident that, despite the 2 hour, 22 minute runtime, Scorsese would be able to keep things moving. Rolling Thunder Revue. He succeeds on both counts, with the compelling footage of Dylan’s passionate performances breaking up the backstage footage and contemporary interviews. And it’s also an example of artists trying to change the mood of the country through their art, and, while they succeeded among themselves and their fans, the country didn’t exactly respond the way they thought they would.

While there is footage of the other acts that joined the revue, Scorsese stays very Dylan-centric. It feels like he’s doing that to remind viewers that the mid-’70s was Peak Dylan, where he was old enough to write complex and mature music but still young enough to have energy and passion. At the end of the movie, Scorsese lists every concert Dylan played from that tour to 2018, showing how the tour re-sparked Dylan’s interest in playing live. But it’s no secret that no one saw the kind of performances Dylan had on that first Rolling Thunder Revue after that tour ended, mainly because Dylan felt like he was in his element.

We wish there was a bit more of a larger perspective in the film; much of it feels like it took place in the bubble that the tour created and not much about where Dylan was in his career to that point, what Blood On The Tracks did to revive it, and what kind of pop culture impact, if any, the tour had in the U.S. But even as pure reminiscence of a turning point in a legend’s career, there’s plenty there that’s new and surprising (like that stuff about KISS… we can’t even wrap our minds around it).

And, by the way, we won’t tell you which aspects of what we wrote above actually happened or are completely made up. Why spoil it for you? Though a few of the fake items are easy to figure out. If you insist on reading up on what in this documentary is real and what isn’t, Rolling Stone has a guide.

Our Call: STREAM IT. By the time you’re done with Rolling Thunder Revue, you may feel you went on tour with Dylan yourself. But you’ll also get some insight into what Dylan was doing as the Disco era started getting ramped up.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company’s Co.Create and elsewhere.