The iconoclastic nature of Bob Dylan’s life makes it difficult if not impossible to label him. As an artist, his deepened sense of our spiritual, social and political longings permeates his music and his life. Often described as a different person at different seasons of his life, Dylan’s exploration and acceptance of Jesus as his Lord and Savior can be seen as either a true life change or simply another phase in his developing artistic life. In this documentary by Joel Gilbert, the title is itself appropriately ambiguous as he allows the viewer to decide if Dylan is just going through “The Jesus Years” or is in fact “Being Born…Again.”
Dismissed by hard-core Dylan fans when he first produced his album of faith titled “Slow Train Coming,” many are reevaluating the music and the message and declaring this work the best of his career. Followed up by the album “Saved,” which is considered of mixed quality, this season of Dylan’s music is followed by his 22nd album “Infidels” in which he returned to his secular music. Though he never publically renounced his faith in Jesus Christ, many assume this to be his public confession.
The uneven documentary is engaging despite its lack of editing skill and unnecessary length. Beginning with an interview of Bill Dwyer, the Vineyard pastor who was instrumental in bringing Dylan to faith in Christ, we are introduced to various teachers, reviewers, fans and professionals who worked with and evaluated Dylan during this season of his life. Several of the prominent persons include producer Jerry Wexler, music critic Joel Selvin, who wrote of “Dylan’s God-awful Gospel,” and Oscar award-winning songwriter Al Kasha, who was Dylan’s Bible Study leader.
Since Dylan is never interviewed, the film lacks any definitive statement about his true opinions and beliefs now that the “Jesus years” have come and gone. Pastor Dwyer and Bible-Study leader Al Kasha believe that Dylan continues to belong within the fold. But this is never substantiated by Dylan himself. Since Dylan is still alive, it is difficult to understand why Gilbert did not give us an opportunity to hear Dylan in his own voice. As it is, this documentary is a fascinating conjecture of the spiritual journey of a gifted artist. Perhaps Gilbert will follow up with an actual interview with Dylan himself. That would settle the questions this film raises.
1. It is implied by at least one of the people interviewed that Dylan was simply trying to reach a new group of consumers with his Jesus albums. Do you believe this is all that Dylan was doing? Why or why not?
2. The fact that Joel Selvin would change his review of both Dylan and his albums done during the “Jesus years” and be more sympathetic reveals a shift in perspective. Why do you think Joel has become more open to Dylan’s Christian albums?
3. The description Al Kasha gives of spending hours with Dylan discussing the Bible implies that he was a true seeker. Do you believe Dylan was a true seeker? Why or why not?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.