Still on Top – Thoughts on Bob Dylan and Woody Allen

Two great forerunners of American culture, one having written and directed over forty five films, the other releasing thirty five…

Luke Simmons

Contributor

Two great forerunners of American culture, one having written and directed over forty five films, the other releasing thirty five studio albums, two phenomenal careers both spanning over five decades. This past week, in the space of a few days, the UK has seen the release of Woody Allen’s ‘To Rome with Love’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’. September 11th was the release date of ‘Tempest’, Dylan’s latest album, filled with dark images and mysterious phrases with a devilish narration throughout. Three days later, Allen’s ‘To Rome with Love’ opened on the 14th, a kaleidoscopic romantic comedy with the backdrop of the eternal city, funny, satisfying and beautifully shot.

Lets start with the man who Barack Obama recently said of ‘There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music’ whilst crediting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award at the White House. Bob Dylan is just that. The boyish skinny folk singer emerging onto the folk scene in the early sixties has transformed over the years into the grand old master of musical genius. Refusing to be pigeonholed, Dylan has seemingly become a new person with each passing phase, growing into different styles, holding different attitudes and portraying different images. Bob’s thirty fifth studio album stays true to this belief.

The dark, deep, funny and cruel ‘Tempest’ is like one long inter-changing mood swing. It is varied and raw, a mix of toe-tapping beats and gripping tales. The album contains a song written about the titanic, another is a tribute to John Lennon, there is the dark and growl filled epic entitled ‘Pay in Blood’ and ‘Scarlet Town’, a menacing tale of love and death told like a story from beyond the grave. These are just four of ten new songs on ‘Tempest’, each one a Dylan classic in its own right. The last time I saw Bob in concert was earlier this year at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent. At seventy one years of age, strolling onto the stage amidst the hot summer night, dressed in a neat black suit and a gleaming white cowboy hat, Dylan appeared assured, aware, up for the fight and still very much a force. I believe the elusive, innovative and thought provoking ‘Tempest’ will stand strong as yet another gem from Dylan.

Woody Allen Is a relentless worker, creating film after film, year after year, when the latest is being released across the world, you can be sure that Woody will already be on location filming for the next in line. Building up his comedy career by writing jokes from the tender age of seventeen, evolving into stand-up and eventually breaking into writing and directing in the late sixties, Woody Allen has been a constant figure positioned on the top level of modern American cultural leaders. Of course, Allen has given us some poor offerings over the years, but even in his ‘bad’ movies, there is always something that makes you smile and think ‘This guy is special’. Like Dylan, he possesses an overwhelming longevity, being able to bounce back from publicised scandals and negative images, recovering and dishing out another script.

‘To Rome with Love’ has the same basic foundations of most Allen movies. It is also the latest in line to have a great European city being the focus. Adding to the list of the conquered Barcelona, London and Paris, Woody brings Rome to life, the eternal city appearing as a grand stage for the neurotic, bizarre and in the case of Alec Baldwin, even mythical characters and stories. It is not Woody Allen’s best film, it’s not even in the top fifteen, but it is still a delight to watch, another annual present from Woody. Beautifully shot, well written and with just enough jokes and moments to keep you smiling.

I wanted to write this article in order to highlight and celebrate the continuing work of two heavyweights in American Arts. Bob Dylan still performs live over one hundred dates a year with his ‘Never Ending Tour’, spanning states, countries and continents, playing hardly recognizable classics with a twist to legions of accepting, understanding and adoring fans. Woody Allen is currently shooting his next film. Set in San Francisco, it appears he is taking a break from Europe, turning his attention to west coast USA. In a week when both of these men have given us their latest projects, I for one will be hoping that their work ethic remains well and truly oiled.