The film features Joan Baez, Donovan and Alan Price (who had just left The Animals), Dylan's manager Albert Grossman and his road managerBob Neuwirth; Marianne Faithfull, John Mayall, Ginger Baker, and Allen Ginsberg may also be glimpsed in the background. The film shows a young Dylan: confident if not arrogant, confrontational and contrary, but also charismatic and charming. Notable scenes include:
- Dylan's extended taunting of Time Magazine's London arts and science correspondent Horace Freeland Judson who was subjected to what he believes to be a contrived tirade of abuse from Dylan.
- Dylan's interrupting Alan Price's backstage performance of "Little Things" to ask Price why he left The Animals.
- Dylan and Baez singing Hank Williams songs in a hotel room, as well as Baez singing the first few verses of "Percy's Song" and "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word" (which was still apparently unfinished at the time, as Baez later tells Dylan, "If you finish it I'll sing it on a record"; she would record it in 1968.)
- Dylan's pre-concert philosophical jousting with a "science student" (Terry Ellis, who later co-founded Chrysalis Records).
- Grossman negotiating with former Bebop Dance band leader and music agent, Tito Burns.
- Dylan singing "Only a Pawn in Their Game" on July 6, 1963 at a Voters' Registration Rally in Greenwood, Mississippi (shot by artist and experimental filmmaker Ed Emshwiller).
- A selection of songs from Dylan's Royal Albert Hall performance.
- Dylan regaling the room with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" after proclaiming "Hey, that's pretty GOOD, man!" at the completion of Donovan's performance of "To Sing for You".
Dylan's romance with Baez had pretty much run its course by the time of the tour, and the film candidly captures what amounts to their breakup.
The opening scene of the film also served as a kind of music video for Dylan's song "Subterranean Homesick Blues", in which the singer displays and discards a series of cue cards bearing selected words and phrases from the lyrics (including intentional misspellings and puns). Allen Ginsberg makes a cameo appearance during this episode.
- Bob Dylan
- Albert Grossman
- Bob Neuwirth
- Joan Baez
- Alan Price
- Tito Burns
- Derroll Adams
- Howard Alk
- Jones Alk
- Chris Ellis
- Terry Ellis
- Marianne Faithfull
- Allen Ginsberg
- John Mayall
- Brian Pendleton
- Tom Wilson
The original title of this film is Dont Look Back (i.e., without an apostrophe in the first word). D.A. Pennebaker, the film's writer (and director) decided to punctuate the title this way because he "was trying to simplify the language". Many sources, however, assumed this to be a typographical error and swiftly "corrected" the title to Don't Look Back (i.e., with an apostrophe in the first word). The title also appears as a line in the song "She Belongs To Me" from the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home ("she's an artist/she don't look back"). Curiously, it isn't an imperative form (but one with a grammatical error), that appears finally, several years later, in the song "Pressing On", from the 1980 album Saved ("shake the dust off your feet/don't look back").
In the commentary track to the DVD release, Pennebaker said that the title came from the Satchel Paige quote, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you," and that Dylan shared this view. Pennebaker said he was not aware that "don't look back" appeared in "She Belongs to Me," and knew Dylan would not want a song lyric to be the title.
Pennebaker has stated that the famous "Subterranean Homesick Blues" music video that is shown at the beginning of the film was actually shot at the very end of filming. Pennebaker decided during editing to place it at the beginning of the film as a "stage" for Dylan to begin the film.
The film was first shown publicly May 17, 1967, at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco, and opened that September at the 34th Street East Theater in New York.
A transcript of the film, with photographs, was published in 1968 by Ballantine Books.
The film has been very well received by critics. It currently has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews. The film also received a 5 star review from allmovie. In August 1967, a Newsweek reviewer wrote:
Dont Look Back is really about fame and how it menaces art, about the press and how it categorizes, bowdlerizes, sterilizes, universalizes or conventionalizes an original like Dylan into something it can dimly understand.
Dont Look Back has been available on DVD for several years. It was digitally-remastered and re-released on DVD February 27, 2007. The two-disc edition contained the remastered film, five additional audio tracks, commentary by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and Tour Road Manager Bob Neuwirth, an alternate version on the video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues", the original companion book edited by D.A. Pennebaker to coincide with the film's release in 1968, a flip-book for a section of the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video, and a brand new documentary by D.A. Pennebaker and edited by Walker Lamond called 65 Revisited. The DVD packaging was also given new artwork.
- The band Belle & Sebastian reference the movie in their 1996 album If You're Feeling Sinister during the song "Like Dylan in the Movies" (refrain: "And if they follow you/don't look back/like Dylan in the movies/on your own").
- Jill Sobule references the movie in her 2000 album Pink Pearl during the song "Heroes" (lyric: "Dylan was so mean to Donovan in that movie").
- INXS pay tribute to the opening sequence in their video for "Mediate" from their 1987 album, Kick.
- The 1992 satire film Bob Roberts includes several scenes that are influenced by the movie, including a clear parody of the opening scene, complete with misspelled words ("Dange", for example).
- The opening sequence with Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video is alluded to in a 2008 ESPN commercial with Kenny Mayne.
- The same sequence was also parodied in the video for Weird Al Yankovic's song "Bob"; that video also includes specific allusions to the INXS video.
- The video was also parodied several times on Royal Canadian Air Farce, where his mumbling would be exaggerated.
- The vinyl version of the Waterboys' bootleg of their performance at the Glastonbury Festival is entitled "Don't Look Back."
- In the movie Patti Smith: Dream of Life, Patti Smith references Dont Look Back, discussing the scene where Dylan hails a taxi.
- In the 2007 mockumentary Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, the main character (Dewey Cox) goes through a transitional period in 1966 that heavily resembles Dylan, and Dont Look Back in particular. Most notably during a press conference scene in which a reporter compares Dewey to Dylan. Dewey replies, "Why doesn't anyone ask Bob Dylan why he sounds so much like Dewey Cox?", parodying a press conference in Dont Look Back where Dylan provides a similar response when a reporter compares Dylan to fellow singer-songwriter Donovan.
- "Don't Look Back" (1999) is an artwork by the British sculptor and conceptual artist Fiona Banner. Her recollection of the documentary is transcribed into first person to give the impression of a witness account of the events captured in the film. The piece takes the form of a screenprint triptych.
"Give the anarchist a cigarette" is uttered by Dylan upon learning that he had been pejoratively labeled as an anarchist by various newspapers in 1965. The event is captured in the final scene of the documentary.
The phrase has since passed into popular culture in several instances.
- A bootleg album of live Bob Dylan songs has been called "Give the Anarchist a Cigarette".
- A film has also been given the title Give the Anarchist a Cigarette.
- The phrase has since been used by the anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba for the title of a song on their album Anarchy. The song is about Bob Dylan and includes the lyrics, "Give the anarchist a cigarette/ 'Cause that's as close as he's ever going to get/ Bobby just hasn't earned it yet".
- It is also the title of the autobiography by Mick Farren, a musician and anarchist.