Chicago Filmmaker, Michael Glover Smith kicks off our new feature, 1 Album. Esthetic Lens is asking artists of all disciplines to pinpoint an album from any genre that has had a great influence on their life, specific works, or has guided their creative sensibilities.
Ever since it was made available to stream on June 18, 2020, I’ve been obsessed with Bob Dylan’s new album Rough and Rowdy Ways. The word “masterpiece” is overused but sometimes only superlatives will do. That Dylan can come up with a collection of songs like this, which contains the multitudes of all his diverse personas over the decades (e.g., blues-rocker, gospel singer, comedian, romantic crooner, etc.), while simultaneously also seeming to strike out into bold new territory at the age of 79, is insane. It’s a work of seemingly bottomless depth, a haunting liminal space where past, present and future overlap (it’s no coincidence that the first line of the first song is “Today and tomorrow and yesterday too,” or that the first and last song both begin with the same sustained C chord, creating the impression of a perfect circle). Rough and Rowdy Ways is also Dylan’s most referential album, containing a vast Joycean network of historical and fictional characters who bounce off of each other as if in a pinball machine. It’s, all at once, a dense, brutal, funny and cathartic work.
What specifically appeals to me about this album as I continue to re-write my screenplay for RELATIVE is the way it speaks to our present moment by addressing the past. In its own way, it’s as much of a “protest” album as The Times They Are A-Changin’ but one in which Dylan’s protest concerns are enfolded into a much broader historical context. There are explicitly anti-racist and anti-fascist sentiments present in the song “Mother of Muses,” which serve as a rebuke to those who are presently seeking to “unite the right” in America. The song’s narrator sings of Civil War and World War II generals who “carved the path” for Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King. By linking the end of slavery in America and the defeat of fascism on a global scale to a flourishing of the arts and civil rights, Dylan is implicitly pointing the way towards a brighter future in a post-Trump America. I hope that the spirit of this album, and perhaps even the music itself, will in some way end up in my film.
It’s, all at once, a dense, brutal, funny and cathartic work.
Michael Glover Smith’s work as writer/director includes the narrative features COOL APOCALYPSE (2015), MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (2017), and RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO (2018). Each installment in this character-based “relationship trilogy” has won awards at film festivals and screened at theaters across the U.S. including Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, Rooftop Cinema Club in L.A. and Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. These movies have received acclaim from critics including the Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper who noted, “Smith creates characters who look and sound like people we know.” He is currently in pre-production on his fourth narrative feature, RELATIVE, starring Wendy Robie (TWIN PEAKS). Smith received the Siskel Center’s Star Filmmaker award in 2017 and made Newcity magazine’s “Film 50” list in 2018 for being “one of 50 individuals who shape Chicago’s film scene.”
Check out Michael’s, Esthetic Lens – Creative Quarantine interview as well.