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Scorsese pins down a rolling stone

The director announces he'll helm a PBS documentary on Bob Dylan's early career.

May 21, 2003|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

The artistry and enigma of Bob Dylan have been explored in enough biographies to fill a small bookshop, but that body of work is about to expand in a major way: Director Martin Scorsese has announced that he will train his celebrated attention on Dylan's early career for a documentary to air on PBS.

Calling Dylan "one of the most exciting artists and icons of the past 50 years," the director said in a statement that he would be turning his efforts to the documentary after finishing the production of "The Aviator," the feature film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes.

The as-yet-untitled documentary will follow young Robert Zimmerman from his youth in Minnesota through 1966, a year that provides a dramatic chapter break -- in July of that year, 25-year-old Dylan was in a mysterious motorcycle accident that led to his withdrawal from the public scene.

By that point the singer-songwriter had already risen through and beyond the folk scene to introduce a new level of literary ambition and provocative commentary to the rock and pop scene.

The documentary will be from two to three hours long and, according to one of its producers, Nigel Sinclair of Spitfire Pictures, it may be the first of a three-part series on Dylan's life. The documentary is to make its U.S. premiere in late 2004 or early 2005 on "American Masters," the PBS series that originates with station WNET in New York.

It will also air on the BBC-TV series "The Arena," and there is talk of a limited theatrical presentation here and overseas.

Dylan has agreed to cooperate with the documentary and, according to producers, will be sitting for a filmed interview for the first time since a segment on ABC's "20/20" in 1985.

Sinclair said Dylan's reflections on his "fascinating and culture-changing early period" will give the documentary a historical heft similar to the Beatles' "Anthology" projects.

Scorsese, the Oscar-nominated director of "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "Taxi Driver" and other signature American films, has filmed Dylan before -- the director's 1978 film "The Last Waltz" documented the farewell concert of the Band, and Dylan was on the all-star bill.

Dylan's manager, Jeff Rosen, has spent years assembling an archive for a defining Dylan documentary, and his introduction in 1999 to producer Sinclair moved the concept forward. Sinclair is also a producer on "Masked and Anonymous," a film from Sony Classics due in theaters July 26. The movie stars Dylan as a down-on-his-luck singer named Jack Fate.

The documentary also has financing partners in the BBC and "American Masters." Susan Lacy, the Emmy-winning creator and executive producer of "American Masters," said Tuesday that the 17-year-old show has long coveted a feature on Dylan, but that the singer repeatedly said he wasn't ready.

"Now, we're thrilled," Lacy said. "This is an artist with a significant body of work that has stood the test of time and inspired a vast number of other artists."

Lacy said "American Masters" has also tapped a documentary by director Sydney Pollack on architect Frank Gehry to air next spring.

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