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When Dylan's 'Never-Ending Tour' was just beginning

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, May 22).

It is either feast or famine. Last week saw an abundance of good and interesting things on offer on free-to-air TV. This week, there is little fresh to celebrate. There are still plenty of good films on offer but I feel that I have visited them too recently to repeat myself. Or maybe it is post-lockdown indolence.

One of the highlights of the week is that Bob Dylan celebrates his 80th birthday. To mark the event there will, doubtless, be an abundance of tributes paid and his music celebrated on radio, but on TV we shall have a chance to see Don’t Look Back 1967 (BBC4 21.00 Fri 28 May). The film, pictured above, documents Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK supported by Alan Price. Slightly more comfortable than Paul Simon’s "tour of one night stands with suitcase and guitar in hand", it offers candid backstage coverage of shows, banter, fans and fawning visitors, while His Bobness stands well back and observes. Director DA Pennebaker, associate of documentarists the Maysel Brothers, who pioneered the"fly on the wall" style of film making, spent his career close to the music industry, making the Ziggy Stardust and Monterey Pop docs and being involved in making the Woodstock film.

The tour and the film culminate in a concert in the Royal Albert Hall. The lights go down, Bob, guitar in hand and harmonica in a brace around his neck, stands in an isolated pool of light. He sings, with directness, passion and intensity that transcend the barrier of the screen. It captures the myth of the man in his prime.

A singer from an earlier era turned his hand, rather successfully, to acting in the 1930s. Dick Powell was a classic crooner who featured in a number of light musicals until he had the chance to break out as Philip Marlowe in Edward Dimitryk’s Farewell, My Lovely, 1944 (Sony Classics 15.00 Tue 25 May). A characteristically hard-boiled, private detective film noir, it marked Powell out as having a range beyond that of the matinee idol.

Defence of the Realm 1985 (Talking Pictures TV 21.00 Tue 25 May) is a tale of duplicity and dark dealings from a later era. Gabriel Byrne plays an investigative journalist who stumbles upon a story that links an MP with a KGB agent and a government cover up. There is a cast of acting stalwarts in support; Denholm Elliott, Fulton Mackay, Bill Paterson and Greta Scacchi. It may have come late in the day for Cold War paranoia, but is still an effective thriller.

There is a rarity from the 1950s which may be worth a watch. Salt of the Earth 1954 (Talking Pictures TV 00.40 Fri 26 May), directed by Herbert J Biberman, fell foul of the Hollywood blacklist and was banned in the USA until 1954. It is based on actual events when a group of miners went on strike against conditions in New Mexico. In addition to the story of the struggle, it brought the prejudice experienced by Mexican and Mexican-American workers to public attention at a time when it was assumed that the main forces of oppression and threat were from outside the US.

This may also be the point to highlight another screening of Loving 2016 (BBC2 23.00 Sat 22 May), Jeff Nichols’ account of a mixed race couple’s experience in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s where their marriage was not recognised and their relationship was punishable by law. The campaign on their behalf led to a landmark change in the law in 1967. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play the Lovings in an uplifting tale of the triumph of love over the law.

In 2002, Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brokovich) remade an Andre Tarkovsky’s classic sci-fi film, Solaris (Sony 18.55 Fri 28 May). A psychologist (George Clooney) is sent to a space station to investigate what has been going on with the crew. Natascha McElhone (The Truman Show) plays his wife. The problems on the station are not just those of the crew.

Comedies of the week include the Bob Hope classic, Son of Paleface 1952 (Sony Classics 13.05 Wed 26 May), a comedy western sequel by Frank Tahslin. Peter Potter Jr (Hope) comes to collect his father’s gold only to run into trouble in the shape of gang leader, Jane Russell. Roy Rogers and Trigger also get an outing, joining Hope and Russell to sing Buttons and Bows.

In addition, there is Heaven Knows Mr Allison 1957 (Film4 00.40 Thu 27 May) about a nun and a marine marooned on a desert island. Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are the unlikely pairing, under the direction of John Huston. I have seen neither of these but they are on the list to view.

I have, however, seen Stranger Than Fiction 2006 (Sony 18.45 Thu 27 May) in which writer Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Elf), is a tax inspector who finds himself the subject of a narration that only he can hear, (voiced by Emma Thompson). He does not like the direction that the story is taking and seeks to change it for a happier ending. Full of philosophical questions about our identity, it is clever and funny stuff.

Satyajit Ray was a megastar in world cinema as director of the Apu Trilogy, charting the development of a young man from Bengal as he leaves his home and family to study and become a writer, echoing the emergence of a new India. This week, we have two of his later films on offer: Charulata (The Lonely Wife) 1964 (Film4 00.55 Wed 26 May) about the wife of a newspaper editor who falls in love with his cousin-in-law through a shared love of literature, and The Big City 1963 (Film4 01.15 Thu 25 May) in which a middle class housewife from a conservative Calcutta family gets a job as a saleswoman, opening up the world to her and subsequently, her family. Ray’s insight into post-Imperial India is gentle, humane and fascinating.

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