Thursday, December 4, 2003

The Infamous *Unfamous* Craig P

Hello, Well, then, hre's a little update from the "infamy" angle. Enjoy (?).
A bientot, C.

Griffin Ondaatje and Craig Proctor have made a documentary on the myth of
Bob Dylan in which Dylan barely appears -- which is fitting, given the
subject matter, BRAD WHEELER writes

Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - Page R3

The hunt is fearsome -- even more so for Bob Dylan, who long ago chose to
play the part of the hunted. And his chasers, hungry and legion, have just
been increased by two.

Griffin Ondaatje and Craig Proctor spent three years, off and on, making
Complete Unknown, an irregular, irreverent 94-minute documentary that
captures home-movie style a journey into the myth and overexamination that
obscures the mumbling genius Dylan -- a man who spoke for a generation, but
inconsistently for himself.

If Dylan won't speak for himself, then others have -- and will. The renowned

folk-rocker is nothing if not considered. Whole forests have been cleared
for books on the subject, and films continue to come. Martin Scorsese, who
caught Dylan on film in The Last Waltz, has apparently persuaded the
notoriously reticent legend to let him film a documentary about the singer's

early career, to be aired on the BBC.

Complete Unknown shows on cold digital a parade of celebrated musicians
(Steve Earle, Odetta, Bruce Cockburn, Billy Bragg and others), obscure
academics and men on the street. They all know Dylan as much as the others,
which is to say, not much at all. Except for a brief glimpse in an old home
movie, obtained from Anna McGarrigle, Dylan does not appear in the film.
(The clip shows Dylan leaving the stage at Newport in 1965, the infamous
"event" where he chucked the acoustic guitar and plugged in an electric.)

Arriving at a downtown Toronto basement pub, Ondaatje and Proctor seem an
odd pair. Ondaatje, 37, is tall, soft-spoken and resembles his author father

Michael (The English Patient, In the Skin of a Lion); Proctor, 36, is burly,

dishevelled and unshaven.

Meeting downstairs is fitting enough -- it was Dylan's Basement Tapes album
that provided the impetus for the film. In 1967, while recuperating from a
motorcycle accident, Dylan and the members of The Band recorded huge amounts

of music, some of it brilliant, some of it sketchy, in the basement of a
house called Big Pink in West Saugerties, N.Y. A portion of the material was

released in 1975 as a two-record set; more comprehensive is the five-volume
Genuine Basement Tapes from 1992. (As well, The Band released its own album
from separate sessions at the house, Music from the Big Pink, in 1968.)

The delay in the release of the Dylan tapes served to trigger rumour and
feed the legend. Ondaatje bought into it large, intrigued that Dylan, at age

26, was grounded enough to know that he should stay out of sight in order to

regain some space. "I think anyone in his position would probably want to
duck out," Ondaatje reasons, his own voice barely competing against the
house stereo as it blares Neil Young's Long May You Run.

As Dylan runs, pursuit is all but assured. In 2000, Ondaatje put aside a
novel he was working on, called his friend Proctor and they set off with a
third friend, a cameraman, for Big Pink. The idea behind the film project
was hardly even realized at that point. "We just filmed everything, the
shape of the film was something that happened in the editing," Ondaatje

In all, 90 hours were filmed. Editing involved intercutting the talking
heads with landscape shots and humorous, non-Dylan archival film clips. In
fact, the film as a whole has a comic undertone to it, complete with an
interview subject who, in rather full detail, mistakenly refers to Dylan's
writing of "Mr. Tangerine Man" rather than Mr. Tambourine Man. And then
there's the dentist who contends that bad teeth are the reason behind
Dylan's stern-faced, close-mouthed portraits. "He's my dentist," Proctor
says, "and as much as it was a light-hearted moment, I think he's serious."

Indeed, they all seem serious. From Jane Siberry's esoterica to an erratic
astrologer, all the interview subjects seem committed to the task of
catching Dylan in their own minds, even as they struggle to explain him to

And though some of the talkers are spectacularly obscure, none are
identified as they appear. Both the celebrated musicians and the others are
only credited at the end of the film. That, according to Proctor, was
intentional. "It levels the playing field. We wanted to make it democratic
that way, with everybody at the same advantage or disadvantage. While
there's a respect for the musician's insight, we wanted to say that Dylan is


He's all ours, and he's all too much, even for huge fans like Proctor and
Ondaatje. "It's been years of overthinking it, and now we're liberated from
that kind of analysis," Proctor says. Ondaatje agrees: "It's strange to
think that for three years, at some point of the day, I'd be thinking about
Bob Dylan. It will be nice not to have to think about that."

What he's thinking about now is getting the film placed in a couple of film
festivals (no screenings have yet been scheduled) and being done with it.
"There was a sense of going into the heart of the unknown -- a complete
unknown -- that you're never, ever going to know. And that journey can be
kind of fun, but it can be exhausting, a bit too obsessive at times."

The journey cost the pair more than $20,000, and included a pair of forays
into upstate New York, as well as trips to Greenwich Village and Hibbing,
Minn., Dylan's birthplace. To defray costs, the pair stayed with relatives
on the road. Friends and family helped out with postproduction costs, but
the two are in debt.

This is not a full-time endeavour (Ondaatje works for MusicWorks magazine
and Proctor for a legal publishing firm), and the idea of selling the film
seems a lot less interesting to the pair than making it. "I feel good about
it," Ondaatje says, when asked about the film's prospects. "In some ways,
though, you just have to let it go. Some people will like it; some may not
even notice it."

A copy of the film sent to Dylan's management received positive feedback
from that end. Time will tell if the film's fate will end up reflecting its
title, but Dylan himself, certainly, is still very much the unknown.
Ondaatje admits he had no hope or desire to hem the man in.

"It wasn't meant to be an exposé. For a while, he could be corralled by
being talked about by other people, but at the end of the film, the gate
opens and he's more free than when the film started."

Good. Dylan roams yet, mostly unfound, more powerful for being somewhere
else. Long may he run.