Letter to the Editor: Eating the Documentary
Regarding the article "Eat the Documentary: Scorsese's Dylan Film Premieres on PBS, BBC," which appears in the September-October issue of International Documentary, you write, "The film includes footage of all those artists, as well as clips from...DA Pennebaker's Dont Look Back and Eat The Document about, respectively, Dylan's 1965 and 1966 tours of the UK."
Pennebaker is not the author, filmmaker or director of Eat The Document. He was the principal--but not the only--cameraman who filmed that tour, and his credit on Eat The Document is "Filmed by." The filmed materials of the 1966 tour were taken by Bob Dylan and my late brother-in-law, Howard Alk, to Woodstock, New York, where together they edited the documentary. Pennebaker had no further involvement in the project. The credits to Eat The Document say "Directed by Bob Dylan and Howard Alk."
Eat The Document was intended as the anti-documentary to Dont Look Back, in which the vérité footage is heavily deconstructed to create something else--an impressionistic,disjointed account of the madness of that 1966 tour. The title itself is a put-down of the documentary form, with which Dylan and Alk both had problems.
Additionally, Alk and Dylan edited Renaldo and Clara, a fiction film that largely incorporates footage from Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Review as part of the narrative. Dylan took a director's credit on that film. In the book Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan there is an excellent account by Allen Ginsberg of the two-year editing process of Renaldo and Clara, in which Dylan and Alk discuss their views on editing vérité footage. Alk maintains, "Documentary pretends towards objective reality, this pretends to truth."
"We try to make something better out of what is real," Dylan adds in the article. "If we want to be successful as artists, we make it better, and give meaning to something meaningless."
I write this because Howard Alk is too often overlooked in regard to the filmography of Bob Dylan. Alk was an important creative influence on Dylan during the years in which he was deeply interested in filmmaking.