Me and Bob (the lost video)

Part of the script used in I’m Not There (see yesterday) comes from a 1966 interview – I might have read it in 1967 – which Nat Hentoff did with Dylan for, of all magazines, Playboy. Quite why I was reading Playboy at the age of 14 I could not say (yes, all right), but the interview was great, and it stuck with me as an inherently dramatic monologue (to my peculiar delight, Todd Haynes says the same thing in his commentary: at last, ahead of my time!). So, a few years later, when I’d started working in further education, and at a time when there was somehow time for members of staff to present performances in their lunch-hour, I performed it, or rather an edited version of it. I probably had a slightly corny mid-Atlantic accent, but I could do all the words – in those days, my memory was pretty good. I tended to get parts in plays which had long speeches.

I set it up so that there were four of us. A friend called Chris played Hentoff, and we re-cast it as a TV interview. Another friend called Rob (they were both drama teachers) did a link. However, he was invisible to the audience, except through a TV monitor, and the fourth member of the act, another Chris (Garratt – better known now as one half of the cartoon series ‘Biff’) filmed the thing on a reel-to-reel video-recorder. This was a cumbersome beast which we had agitated for some time for the college to buy, arguing (for once, correctly) that video was the coming thing. So the set-up involved the audience looking to their right at a monitor, as Rob intoned the introduction to the Playboy article. As an idea of how hip Playboy was, it announced that Bob Dylan was an artist up there on a par with – honestly, I’m not making this up – Herman’s Hermit’s.

At the end of Rob’s announcement, to the strains of Positively Fourth Street, on we walked, and lurched into the ‘interview’ – largely a flight of surreal fantasy in which Dylan declared himself apolitical. It worked pretty well, although what was really interesting was that, since Chris Garratt was filming us from the side, the audience had a choice between watching us on the monitor, or watching us live onstage. They all watched the monitor. It was an early lesson for me in the power of the TV. There we were, addressing an audience from a distance of no more than five feet, and the audience was watching a screen. We were playing to turned heads. I think this would still work today.

The fate of the tape is a bit tragic. I kept the reel for years, until about 1985, and the arrival of video-cassettes. And then, miraculously, I found someone who could transfer the reel to cassette, and that meant that I had the image stored ‘forever’. Carelessly, I disposed of the reel. Equally carelessly, in about 1988, I left my office door unlocked at work, just after the delivery of a pack of twelve blank video-cassettes. The thief, who had about three minutes to perpetrate the act, also snapped up the video of the Dylan performance, so the images from 1975 or so were lost. I often have a fantasy that I’ll come across it at a car boot sale, but I know it’s gone.

Look on the bright side. The thief has spared you from having to watch it.

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