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‘A Song and Dance Man’

The second showcase of the Bob Dylan Center’s ‘Tarantula: On Film’

Bob Dylan

The Bob Dylan Archive

In celebration of Bob Dylan’s only published work of poetry, the Bob Dylan Center will host round two of “Tarantula: On Film” at 2 p.m. July 29 at the Woody Guthrie Center. While the first program focused on the volatile union of experimental filmmaking and the writers of Dylan’s generation, the second program looks deeper into his personal influences.

In 1966, Richard O. Moore directed the ten-part television series “USA: Poetry.” Among the featured poets was Dylan’s friend Michael McClure. Clips of McClure discussing the nature of poetry, creating poems with filmmaker Bruce Conner, and provoking lions with a reading at the San Francisco Zoo will be shown from this series.

Before Dylan published “Tarantula” in 1971, John Lennon had already published two books, “In His Own Write” (1964) and “A Spaniard in the Works” (1965). Both works saw immediate success upon release, proving that popular musicians could share in some literary fame.

Two contrasting clips of Lennon reading from his works will be shown: in one, filmed for Swedish television, Lennon and George Harrison deface a copy of “In His Own Write,” and the other is a fairly straight-forward interview and reading done for the BBC.

“Do you think you’d be published were you not a Beatle?” the BBC interviewer asks Lennon.

“I could probably get published, you know,” Lennon said. “But I wouldn’t sell as many. They publish a lot of rubbish anyway.”

Both faces of Lennon—jesting on Swedish television and answering serious questions about celebrity with the BBC—are also present in Dylan during his legendary 1965 San Francisco press conference.   

At just over 50 minutes, the press conference will be shown in full during the second installment of Tarantula: On Film. Dylan chain smokes while answering myriad questions, comically playing off interviewers and not taking their flak.

When asked early on whether he considers himself “primarily as a singer or a poet,” Dylan replies without a beat:

“I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.”

The final film, “Fat Feet” (1966), directed by multimedia artist Red Grooms, uniquely blends painted sets, animation, and stop-motion live film. Grooms’ dark humor calls to mind the Marx Brothers, and both his use of painting and the grotesque defamiliarization of his characters are reminiscent of the short films of David Lynch.

Dylan was greatly influenced by Grooms, as he writes in Chronicles:

“There was a connection in Red’s work to a lot of the folk songs I sang. It seemed to be on the same stage. What the folk songs were lyrically, Red’s songs were visually—all the bums and cops, the lunatic bustle, the claustrophobic alleys—all the carnie vitality.”

All of that is present in “Fat Feet.”

McClure mused upon the nature of Dylan’s poetics in his 1974 Rolling Stone article, “The Poet’s Poet,” writing:

“It is a mistake to wonder which poetry will matter 30 years from now. We should wonder what is wrong if Dylan’s songs do not mean something to us today. We are all moved by spiritual experiences.”

In addition to these short films, rare concert footage from the Bob Dylan Archives will also be screened. The “Tarantula: On Film” series anticipates the opening of the Bob Dylan Center in 2021. Check facebook.com/bobdylancenter for updates and more events.

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