Jan 25: Bob Dylan’s film Renaldo And Clara was released in 1978

Renaldo and Clara

Bob Dylan’s film Renaldo And Clara was released January 25, 1978

This nearly four-hour surrealist odyssey (232 m.)  is written, directed and starring Bob Dylan himself.

Directed by Bob Dylan
Produced by Mel Howard
Written by Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard
Starring Bob Dylan, Sara Dylan, Joan Baez
Music by Various artists
Cinematography Howard Alk, David Meyers, Paul Goldsmith
Editing by Bob Dylan, Howard Alk
Distributed by Circuit Films
Release date(s) January 25, 1978
Running time 232 minutes
Country United States
Language English

There is a myth about this film, it is considered to be incoherent and confusing, well, it isn’t. Every time I see it, it strikes me as a unified vision, one man’s vision, where he puts different kind of film stocks and styles together to create an entertaining and, yes, demanding movie.  The film is a mixture of fantastic concert footage, documentary style film (dealing with the Hurricane Carter case), and fictional, seemingly improvised  footage.

Never let me go:

Drawing structural and thematic influences from the classic  film Les Enfants du Paradis, Dylan infuses Renaldo and Clara with lots of shifting styles, tones, and narrative ideas. Similarities between the two films include the use of whiteface , the recurring flower, the woman in white (Baez), the on-stage and backstage scenes, and the dialogue of both films’ climactic scenes.


Also evident is the Cubist approach of the two films, allowing us to see the main characters from the different perspectives of various lovers. This also echoes some of the songs from this Dylan period (Simple twist of faith and Tangled up in blue coming to mind). Running time is also relatively similar.

It’s a free associating epic that feels pulled straight from Bob Dylan’s brain, Renaldo and Clara is a work of misunderstood genius.

renaldo and Clara 2

Filmed during his legendary 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue Tour and features an eclectic cast of characters (Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard, Arlo Gunthrie, Ronnie Hawkins, Harry Dean Stanton, etc) Bob Dylan plays the role of the guitarist Renaldo and his then-wife Sara plays his companion Clara.  Joan Baez enters the picture and a love triangle ensues, effectively mirroring Dylan’s own real-life drama. To me it seems to be a fairly accurate description of Dylan’s complicated relationships with women. It simply rings true.

Tangled up in blue:

Disheartened by confused critics who didn’t understand the film at the time of its release, Dylan withdrew it from circulation and has kept it locked away in a vault for over 30 years. The only parts of the movie to be released for consumers are the excerpts found on the bonus DVD accompanying the initial release of Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue. Footage from the film also appeared in the music video of Dylan’s 1991 song Series of Dreams.

Renaldo and clara 3

Diamonds and Rust (Joan Baez):

Joan Baez: I got dressed up to come down here. I heard you were coming through town.
Bob Dylan: –
Joan Baez:  What do you think it would have been like if we’d gotten married?
Bob Dylan: I dunno. I haven’t changed that much. Have you?
Joan Baez: Maybe.

Just like a woman:

A few years back there were rumors of an official release, but it has yet to happen. It would be so great to get a HD release this year, it is now 40 years since it was officially released at the cinema!

– Hallgeir

21 thoughts on “Jan 25: Bob Dylan’s film Renaldo And Clara was released in 1978”

  1. I have made my own four-hour version with the circulating Channel 4 (not BBC, as someone wrote above) and synchronize it to a stereo soundtrack a French friend got from Cannes.
    I have included Gregory Corso’s letter to Bob after watching the movie as an extra. It also has switchable English, Galician-Portuguese and commentaries subtitles.

    By the way, the storyline has some added meaning if you think of it as running backwards.
    Buñuel films – That Obscure Object of Desire in particular, 1976, influenced it. Different women playing the same role. (Ángela Molina / Carole Bouquet)

    (I saw the two-hour version in theatres back in 1978. It was not only concert footage).

  2. I have only seen the shortened version of R&C. I was living in Tokyo in the early 1980’s and it was showing at a porno theater in Shinjuku. (On Thursdays, this theater showed art films instead of porn. That was a surrealistic experience in and of itself–watching R&C in a porno theater with Japanese subtitles!) I got to see it twice that day and loved every minute of it. Honestly I have not been overly thrilled with some of the latest Bootleg Series releases–namely the Self-Portrait and Basement Tapes volumes. But a Bootleg Series release of the 4 hour R&C would be something that I would really look forward to.

  3. I saw the Full Four Hour Version four times shortly after it was release – in Columbus, Ohio USA _
    Afternoon Showing and The Evening Showing the first two days in town – there was a good size line when I got there waiting for the box office to open that first afternoon – people cheered, applauded, and so forth but did not interfere with the flow of the Movie – they enhanced it – It was made of course for the big screen – I knew it was a Masterpiece – the shows were sell out – I am sure not every one got in the first show or two that showed up

  4. We fans hang in there hoping Dylan will eventually parcel out that incredibly great material — stuff like “Renaldo” that he has hidden away — because we love it! Unfortunately for us, he truly has no need for money, fame, glory or the probable headaches, so he remains unmotivated to release it. Alas.

  5. At that time, in Malibu, I was afraid I could not remember how to act. I did come across him him a few days later on the road skateboarding with his kids . I just kept on moving. Obviously.

  6. I was staying at a friend’s place in Malibu when and where it was being edited. My friend asked me if I’d like to meet fellow Canadian, Howard Alk, who was working on editing Renaldo and Clara. I was too shy at the time to meet Bob in person so I foolishly declined.
    Wish I had gone in to have a look, and help him tighten the story up. I’ve watched it several times and still think it needs editing.

  7. It was shown in Holland on tv late at night and I remember it entranced me as a twenty year old who was deep into James Joyce, Julio Cortazar, Burroughs but also Hemingway and Flaubert, and I was struck by how classic and modern this film was and I had no problem with the storyline… Shortly after literature turned into something boring, not much different from chick lit, just a story with no artistic endeavour to do more with language. Dylan fused so many art forms here and was met with the growing stupidity of the money hungry yup society. No wonder he got frustrated and gradually lost his muse for years to come. Feeding pearls to the swine is no fun. Great how you throw light on one of the greatest cinematic experiences I had in my life.

    1. The film is not difficult to follow but it is not a simple movie, it is demanding like most great art is.

      Thanks for the feedback, Hans.

      – Hallgeir

  8. I bought a copy on eBay that somebody recorded from TV when it played in England. The quality is pretty much crap but I actually enjoyed the movie, weirdness and all.

  9. Though the movie did play on British tv at least once, its first outing was certainly not on the BBC but rather on C4.

    It was at a Christmas holiday period. Somewhere between ’85 and ’87 I would “guess.”

  10. I have the four hour version that was broadcast by the BBC…my brother recorded
    it on VHS and later transferred it to DVD so the visual quality is not very good but the sound is excellent..and the music that is played during the scenes, not the performances, is absolutely fantastic !

    1. Yes I agree! The soundtrack is fantastic, but I really like the movie. Yeah, I am a bit biased…

      Thanks for the story!

      – Hallgeir

  11. I’ll be in line for any official release. I of course would like to have the long version. I would also be first in line for any Rolling Thunder release, PLEEEEEEASE!!!!!!!!

  12. About a year after the four-hour version came out, there was a two-hour edition made up of concert footage which played briefly on the midnight circuit.

    1. Yes, I have seen them both, I prefer the long version.
      The two hour version(that I saw) had more than concert footage, but was more “confusing” I think.

      Thanks for your comment!

      – Hallgeir

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