A master documentarian as well as a prime picturemaker, Scorsese uses interviews with dozens of important figures from the New York City folk, poetry and blues scene——Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Allen Ginsberg, Al Kooper——to recreate the impact when Bobby Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., hit town in January 1961 on a pilgrimage to visit the ailing Guthrie. Dylan went right to work, sponging up all manner of folk influences, spending days in the library reading U.S. history, ingesting every book of poetry he found in the apartments of friends who let him sleep over.
But it was his gift for synthesizing that sent him into the depths of the forest and allowed him to bring it all back home in teeming poetry set to ancient lays. As he says in the documentary, "I'd taken all the elements that I've ever known to make wide, sweeping statements which conveyed a feeling that was the essence of the spirit of the times." Where the poetry came from——the epic, apocalyptic vision of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, the piercing simplicity of Blowin' in the Wind——well, that's a secret.
Dylan was a sensation in the small folk world as soon as he started writing his own stuff. Turned down by Baez's label, Vanguard （"We don't record freaks here," the bosses supposedly said）, he caught a wild break when legendary producer John Hammond signed him to the ultraconservative Columbia Records. In less than two years, Blowin' in the Wind was a smash for Peter Paul & Mary, and two years later, Like a Rolling Stone was a top pop hit.