Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara To Be Finally Released

Dylanologists rejoice! I’ve heard from a semi-reliable source that Renaldo and Clara, a much-discussed and little-seen 1978 epic film by Bob Dylan, will soon be finally released on DVD.

This astounding, rich and often frustrating movie represented one of the most dramatic episodes in Bob Dylan’s long career. An ambitious, intentionally difficult postmodern art film, Renaldo and Clara was panned by critics for being pretentious, incomprehensible and painfully long (all of these things are true). Released in the early years of the punk-rock/new-wave era, the film’s windy self-indulgence revealed Dylan as completely out of step with his times. Stung by the criticism, Dylan has refused to release the film ever since. It has not shown in theatres since the 1970s, and has never been officially released on VHS or DVD.

But this movie is a masterpiece in spite of its faults, or perhaps because of them. Conceived by Dylan as an early experiment in cinema verite (a genre now typically known as “reality tv”), Renaldo and Clara tells a single story but deliberately confuses the identities of all the characters, several of which are played by Dylan, his former lover Joan Baez or his then-wife Sara Dylan. Bob Neuwirth, T. Bone Burnette, Ronee Blakely, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Ronnie Hawkins, Rob Stoner and countless other friends come along for the ride. Various improvised or real-life scenes introduce themes of love, politics and the meaning of America, and by the end none of the themes are easily resolved. The film quality is erratic, the direction is often unclear, and the acting is often clumsy (guitarist Mick Ronson is particularly wooden, and Dylan is no Brando himself)

However, stirring scenes and images emerge. Most importantly, the narrative scenes are intercut with stunning complete performances of great songs like Tangled Up In Blue, It Ain’t Me Babe, Never Let Me Go, When I Paint My Masterpiece and One More Cup Of Coffee. The film features Dylan in a peak moment of live performance with the Rolling Thunder Revue (the largest and, in my opinion, most exciting band he ever played with).

The film’s literary credentials are through the roof. It’s co-written by Sam Shepard, includes a powerful poetry performance by Anne Waldman, and features many beguiling scenes with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, who light up the screen whenever they appear. This movie is also the only close glimpse curious Dylan fans will ever get of Sara Dylan, the songwriter’s greatest muse (Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands) and the mother of his older children.

I’ve seen Renaldo and Clara several times, but always on either a fuzzy bootleg VHS recording or, more recently, in broken segments on YouTube. In either case, the viewing experience is not great (it pretty much looks like the image at the top of this page, which show Sara and Bob as Clara and Renaldo). I’m looking forward to seeing it in high quality video for the first time, and hearing the killer live music in high quality audio. Maybe this time I’ll even be able to understand more of the story.

It’s not clear whether Dylan has refused to release this film since the 1970s only to spite the critics or for other reasons. The crash-landing of Renaldo and Clara coincided with Dylan and Sara’s divorce, after which the always enigmatic folk-rocker released a brilliant, Kafkaesque album called Street-Legal, then disappeared for several months and reemerged as a born-again Christian. Renaldo and Clara, though an artistic failure in several ways, captures the heat of an artist in a creative frenzy. It probably also captures something about the 1970s as a whole.

My old friends at the once-thriving Usenet newsgroup may also remember that I once posted an extensive synopsis of the film there (this was one of the very first things I wrote online). Through maintaining this piece over the years, I’ve been made aware of how many hard-core or amateur Dylanologists around the world have been eagerly awaiting this film. Sean Wilentz’s recent book Bob Dylan in America has also helped to pique interest (Wilentz reveals, among other things, that the film was almost certainly inspired by a French film called Children of Paradise, directed by Marcel Carne).

I’m really glad that Bob Dylan’s creative team has decided to give this undeniably important movie its proper official release, though I haven’t yet heard word when it will happen.

30 Responses

  1. Even though it was panned, I
    Even though it was panned, I still would like to see this flick.

    “Renaldo & Clara” was hard to see back then, too, as you said. I really dig old “Bobby D.” , as I like to call him. The world has turned many times since that flick came out. But it is a microcosm of reality cinema and I hope it is available soon in our area.

    It is hard for me to believe that Dylan is going to be seventy this May…Wow! A lot of years have gone down the river…My wish for Mr. Dylan is for him to keep his songs, writings, etc. coming for us to appreciate for many years. He’s a great guy and I’m a huge fan.

  2. Another must-see experimental
    Another must-see experimental film of that era is Norman Mailer’s Maidstone (available on DVD in PAL format). It is acted by a bunch of amateurs and, incredibly, Rip Torn, who is amazing. “pretentious, incomprehensible and painfully long,” as with Dylan’s film, it has a hypnotic quality that remains with the viewer.

    I was lucky enough to see it when Mailer was taking it around to the colleges around 1970, in conjunction with a lecture. He was nearly routed by the angry students, who had to sit through it to hear him speak.

  3. Can you say anything more
    Can you say anything more about where you might have learned this, or how reliable the source is? Because there is absolutely nothing out there about this.

  4. Sure, Bill. It happens that
    Sure, Bill. It happens that I have a good connection very close to Dylan’s management, and this information did NOT come from that source (since this person is a friend, I try not to bug him for inside scoops). The information came to me in a relatively random way from a person who is working on the audio/video conversion. There has definitely not been an announcement, but I’m pretty sure the technical work for the DVD is being done right now.

  5. Wow, this sounds awesome,
    Wow, this sounds awesome, thanks for the heads up. I’m reading (belatedly, I know) Chronicles. Hey, I don’t know much about film, but would you really call Cinema Verite equivalent to reality tv?

  6. Hi Bud — yeah, I think there
    Hi Bud — yeah, I think there is a clear line between classic cinema verite and the earliest experiments in reality TV, like PBS’s “An American Family” and MTV’s “The Real World” (after these two, the deluge).

    Let me know what you think of the movie, if and when you get to see it!

  7. Wasn´t Chronicles supposed to
    Wasn´t Chronicles supposed to be a two part project? I don´t suppose you have any inside information, Levi, through your connections, on what´s happening with the second book?

  8. Kev, I don’t have “inside”
    Kev, I don’t have “inside” info but I do have info on that — Dylan is planning to publish at least two more “Chronicles” books with Simon and Schuster. And I’m pretty psyched about this.

  9. I actually saw R&C opening
    I actually saw R&C opening night in L.A. way back in 1978. My friends and I thought it was long, but good, and were stunned by the universally venomous reviews that came out the next morning.

    I’ve tried to watch it since but have never managed to get all the way thru my bootleg copy, whether because of the slow pace or the bad video quality, I couldn’t say.

    Like reading a 19th century novel, you have to readjust your sense of pacing way down from the frenetic MTV-style assault on the senses we’re used to now. It’s a slow, leisurely, meandering film and if you can accept that, there’s a lot to love about it.

  10. >I’ve seen Renaldo and Clara
    >I’ve seen Renaldo and Clara several times, but always on either a fuzzy bootleg VHS recording or, more recently, in broken segments on YouTube. In either case, the viewing experience is not great (it pretty much looks like the image at the top of this page, which show Sara and Bob as Clara and Renaldo). I’m looking forward to seeing it in high quality video for the first time, and hearing the killer live music in high quality audio. Maybe this time I’ll even be able to understand more of the story.

    Quite good copies circulate on DVD. Check any of these listed at

    D340.JTT Renaldo & Clara – The Music
    D630 Renaldo & Clara Concert Clips (In Stereo)
    D340 Renaldo & Clara Songs
    D003.pal Renaldo and Clara (PAL) Renaldo and Clara (With German Subtitles)
    D003.JTT Renaldo and Clara (JTT transfer)
    D003 Renaldo and Clara

  11. I remember seeing this, the 4
    I remember seeing this, the 4 hour version, at the Waverly Theater, in Greenwich Village.

    It didn’t play for long. And I remember the Bob Dylan quote warning … “It’s not STAR WARS”.

    But I will attest, that after all the horrible reviews, all the critical pans, all the nay-sayers piling on, that I was expecting something so painful to watch, that I was pleasantly surprised. I LOVED IT

    No, it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster film, but, if you love BD, you’ll enjoy it.

  12. I was scrolling down these
    I was scrolling down these comments & was going to ad pretty much the exact same thing as Marvin Bluth (above)! I too saw it at the Waverly before it was cut. Was it 4 hrs? I thought 5. Or seemed like 5? Perhaps but no fan should miss it. Just pay no mind of any attempted ‘story’. Take it as what it was – a long, spliced-together home movie.

    See y’all at the Waverly!

  13. I have been a big Dylan fan
    I have been a big Dylan fan all my life. I saw “Renaldo and Clara’ TWO TIMES at the Waverly Theater in NYC back in 1977 or early 1978 — can’t remember exact date. Anyway, the performances were great — and are still memorable to me many, many years later. However, the rest of the movie itself is very nearly unwatchable. Why did I see it twice? Pure obsessive fandom. And the music. A big disappointment is how little Dylan actually talks in this movie. And there are lots of improvised scenes that just seem silly. I think it is by far Dylan’s worst movie. Naturally “Don’t Look Back,” is great and a hundred times better than this — but I also prefer “Eat the Document” and even “Masked and Anonymous.” All I can tell you is — don’t fall for the hype of “Renaldo and Clara” being post-modern or cinema-verite, etc. It’s just a boring movie made by people who are musicians — not filmmakers. They don’t know what they’re doing. You wouldn’t expect Martin Scorsese to record an album of himself singing songs that he wrote and for it to be good. Same situation here IMHO.

  14. Great news! I’ve been dying
    Great news! I’ve been dying to see this film.. I’ve seen scenes on YouTube, but would love to sit down and watch the whole thing… There are parts I believe that were filmed in my hometown and birthplace of Kerouac, Lowell, MA…


  15. Most of the existing bootlegs
    Most of the existing bootlegs come from a showing on English television. Some of us were contacted in the 1980s to help defray the cost of making copies by paying for first generation digital transfers onto video tape, made (I believe) in Chicago. I had mine made on Beta Hi-Fi. I remember paying $60. There is a second source tape from the same showing that was available on-line a few months ago. I haven’t done an A-B comparison.

    I was in NYC in February, 1978, and saw it on the marquee at the Waverly, but didn’t go see it then. My wife was with me, and we were just in town for one day, and she didn’t want to see it. I moved to Nashville at the end of February, and within a couple weeks, the 4-song soundtrack was playing on the radio. The two-hour edit came out sometime later.

  16. Well, a journalist at Variety
    Well, a journalist at Variety checked out the story and reports that the Dylan office is saying “Nope”, which probably means I jumped to conclusions about the DVD release being imminent. I do know pretty much for a fact that a technical re-mastering of the film is being worked on now or has been recently. But it looks like Dylan’s office is going to hang on to the work instead of letting it out.

    I can only ask: why?! It’s such a fascinating movie. And I think the amount of discussion my (overly optimistic) scoop generated is proof that a lot of people want to buy this release. I hope the office will give this more thought. (And release a DVD of “Hard Rain” while they’re at it too!).

    Here’s the Variety article:

    Thanks for the comments and feedback, everybody.

  17. Considering the number of
    Considering the number of people involved in the film and their contractual agreements, it’s possible the film has been held up because of a lot of legal tangles. Also, I seem to recall that during the divorce, Sara Dylan said something like she wanted her images cut out of the film. Possibly non-release was part of that agreement, yet another legal entanglement. Other than such complications and/or cost prohibitions, it seems absurd not to release it on DVD.

    But then, Electric Dreams has never been released on DVD, either.

  18. My hunch is that the movie
    My hunch is that the movie has never been released because Sara, who is still alive, does not like it and does not want it out there. And now that the period of anger after their divorce has passed, Bob is respectful of his ex-wife’s wishes. My only evidence for this hunch is the knowledge that she is an extremely reclusive person, and that Dylan has always remained in love with her, despite the break up of their marriage.

  19. Don, unfortunately the only
    Don, unfortunately the only word has been a negative one. While it is certain that the Bob Dylan organization has recently done technical work to make this film available for possible release, there is no indication that they plan a release. It seems they did this so that they can use excerpts from the film in documentaries, etc. Better than nothing, but they really ought to release the damn film.

  20. i’ve just been to see the
    i’ve just been to see the four hour version of R&C at the Glasgow Film Theatre in Scotland. Print was a bit dodgy, and there are a few very strange dramatic scenes but I thought it was terrific! Concert footage is amazing! Its also very funny in places.

    I hope it gets a proper DVD release…

  21. Not out, because it isn’t
    Not out, because it isn’t coming out? Another would-be director named Mr. Brainwash produced a film about as good, so I hear.

  22. I saw this in a theater when
    I saw this in a theater when it was first released, then on a fuzzy VHS taped from a single TV broadcast in the UK, and then a much better quality bootleg DVD-R release, but I prefer the rarely seen re-edited 2 hour version that Dylan authorized in reaction to the poor reception of the original. I would hope that would be officially released someday.

  23. mr web sherrif all over the
    mr web sherrif all over the net removing all traces of R & C

    they certainly know how to spoil the fun

  24. IS this coming out soon on
    IS this coming out soon on DVD or Blu-Ray ? I’d like to know….I want to purchase a copy…a good cleaned up remastered from a quality print…not the like my fuzzy VHS copy I had to stoop to finding in the back of some magazine about records.

  25. Any news on this? Would love
    Any news on this? Would love to be able to screen the film in France.

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