Art of creation: Scorsese’s Bob Dylan doc, ‘MINDING THE GAP’ ride victoriously into the Criterion Collection

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

There’s something exceptional and satisfying about picking up a film from the Criterion Collection. It’s like going into an old book store and discovering something special, marked up, and annotated from within the classic literature section.

The Criterion Collection is arguably a distribution company that helps us to understand the meaning of life and art. Whether through a profound piece of feature or documentary filmmaking, engaging supplemental material, or expressive cover artwork and physical media packaging, wisdom and artistic enlightenment await.

Here are two films fresh to the Criterion Collection that offer incredible insights into growth and the art of creating:

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (2019)

dir. Martin Scorsese
Not rated (TV-MA), 142 minutes.

The Netflix-released documentary Rolling Thunder Revue seems like it might have a light narrative impact at first glance. In the bonus feature interviews located on the film’s Criterion release, director Martin Scorsese and film editor David Tedeschi address the complicated nature of crafting a music documentary with meaning.

Through all the concert footage and backstage clips from Bob Dylan’s 1975 tour across North America, the filmmakers discover a journey that encapsulates a time when love, poetry, and art could be found in anything. As Tedeschi notes, these artists’ creative energy and our desire to learn about their spirituality through music reel us in. 

The Criterion release of Rolling Thunder Revue is about as good as it gets when it comes to a quality collector’s product. It contains an astonishing freewheeling doc at its center, thoroughly compelling bonus features, and imaginative packaging and cover art that reflects the film’s spirit. But what makes it stand apart from other Criterion releases is the wisdom the film imparts and how the home distribution company celebrates it. 

For instance, take an early interview scene with a 78-year-old Bob Dylan, who mocks the documentary’s purpose and how he’s going to be able to uncover information from such a fuzzy period in history.

“It was so long ago. I wasn’t even born,” Dylan jokes.

The titular tour was a 50-odd-date rolling event that saw Dylan meandering through America in whiteface makeup alongside a rotating chair of talent, including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and violinist Scarlet Rivera. 

One of the most interesting anecdotes from the film arrives when Dylan argues that life is not about finding yourself but rather “creating yourself.” And that’s what Rolling Thunder Revue is largely about—artists coming together to express themselves and share their observations about life through comfortable tools (a guitar, voice, pen and paper, paint, etc.). It’s infectious to see Dylan mask himself in paint to speak higher truths about society, while Scorsese uses clips from other films and historical footage to back the words and lyrics.

This isn’t a straightforward documentary or concert film by any means. It showcases a unique presence and triumphant performances. Singer-songwriter Patti Smith makes waves. (Although she wasn’t part of the tour, Smith is featured performing before it commenced.) Poet Allen Ginsberg and (surprisingly) actress Sharon Stone also pop up. (The latter of whom was a young fellow traveler on the road with them. Stone fascinatingly shares a story about how Dylan falsely told her his 1966 song “Just Like a Woman” was about her.)

Rolling Thunder Revue is like being thrown back into the 1970s. Passion can be felt in every frame as the possibilities of music and living an authentic life are shown. No matter how crazy or extreme the times got during this tour, these artists used their talents and words to share something bigger than themselves. It’s inspiring, and Scorsese and Criterion impressively capture it.

Grade: A+

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital transfer, approved by director Martin Scorsese, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interviews with Scorsese, editor David Tedeschi, and writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman
  • Restored footage of never-before-seen Rolling Thunder Revue performances of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” and “Romance in Durango,” and of a never-before-seen cut of “Tangled Up in Blue”
  • Trailer
  • An essay by novelist Dana Spiotta and writing from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour by author Sam Shepard and poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman

MINDING THE GAP (2018)

dir. Bing Liu
Not rated, 93 minutes.

Similar to Rolling Thunder Revue, you could look at the cover of Minding the Gap and merely expect a few friends goofing around with a camera on skateboards. But, through a dazzling Boyhood-like 12-year journey, young filmmaker Bing Liu makes a heartfelt tale about friendship and the peaks and valleys of adolescence.

You watch these three pals – Keire, Zack, and Liu himself – hop fences, pull off impressive skating tricks, and share harrowing details about their lives that makes you wish you could reach through the screen to give them all hugs. You’re amazed at how you become invested in these young men and fear and hurt for them.

“Skateboarding is more of a family than my family,” one of the friends says, who uses his board as an avenue to exercise his mental health. One skateboard contains text that reads, “This device cures heartache.” The same could be said of this film.

The trio isn’t a rebellious bunch anymore. They each have learned that adulthood arrives faster than a spill down a halfpipe on the first go. One rejects the idea of doing a dangerous stunt, while another friend prepares for his girlfriend to have their baby. 

Minding the Gap is an intimate exploration of the complexities of masculinity, generational trauma, and fatherhood. All are likely themes Liu didn’t expect to share and capture when he started filming his friends’ four-wheeled adventures. Candid conversations transpire, and captivating reflections of youth and hardships surface in this cinematic rarity.

As Criterion continues to release Blu-rays and DVDs through the pandemic, you’ll begin to see more and more bonus features containing interviews done via Zoom. While the platform may not offer a slew of angles to break the visual layout, the first-rate information remains intact. 

Compared to other Criterion releases that feature Zoom calls, filmmaker Bing Liu (seemingly) lends a hand in bringing more appeal to the interviews’ look by using a multi-cam setup. The interview between Liu and Nina, the mother of Zack’s child and an essential secondary subject in the film, is a beautiful conversation about contentious relationships, trauma, and personal growth. The talk with Tony Hawk about fatherhood is equally as affecting.

Grade: A

Special Features:

  • New high-definition digital master, approved by director Bing Liu, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring Liu and documentary subjects Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan
  • New follow-up conversation between Liu and documentary subject Nina Bowgren
  • New programs featuring interviews with professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and with Liu, Minding the Gap executive producer Gordon Quinn, and producer Diane Quon
  • Four outtake scenes with introductions by Liu
  • “Nước” (2010), a short film by Liu about two Vietnamese immigrants growing up American
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Jay Caspian Kang

To purchase either of the above newly-released Blu-rays, shop the collection by visiting criterion.com or visiting your local Barnes & Noble.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.