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

Renaldo and Clara

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. Everytime 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 ficitonal, seemingly improvised  footage.

Never let me go:

Drawing structural and thematic influences from the classic  film Les Enfants du Paradis, Dylan infuses Renaldo & 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 Gunthre, 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.

Last year there were rumours of an official release, but it has yet to happen. It would be so great to get a HD release this year, it is after all it’s 35 year anniversary.

– Hallgeir


6 thoughts on “Today: Bob Dylan’s film Renaldo And Clara was released in 1978”

    1. I saw it at a friends house and he says he got it “off the internet”. I don’t know where exactly, but he says he just looked around using google and torrent sites.
      Happy hunting!

      – Hallgeir

  1. Hallgeir, thank you for your succinct background and analysis of R&C. I have only see some clips from it. But I am expecting a bootleg DVD copy to arrive in the mail *soon*, thanks to a kind fan sharing it with me, just in time to celebrate the 35th anniversary. I definitely would want to lobby Bobby to release a high-quality official version on DVD/Blu-Ray. BTW, love those pix comparing Les Infants du Paradis with R&C. Especially the one where Dylan is holding up his wrists – the comparison with the clip from the French classic is, well, stunning.

    1. Yes, I was also stunned when I started comparing stills from the two movies, there are more that I didn’t include.

      The clothes that Dylan wears are very much like the clothes worn by characters in Les Enfants…

      Thanks for the feedback.

      – Hallgeir

  2. I have had this film on video tape for ages, ages … wish it was available as a good quality, officially released DVD … I would buy that. I know there was a bootleg DVD of the music from the film, but I didn’t bother with that … I thought, hoped it would eventually get a release … I suppose were will have to wait until he is dead and then it will appear as if by magic. Real shame. I did not understand half of the film but still enjoyed the moment; crazy thing, but hey everybody needs a bit of craziness every so often. Final plea: someone, organise an official release. Cheers.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I have also seen this film in bad(ish) quality, probably a video tape transfer to dvd, and would kill for an official release on blu-ray.

      – Hallgeir

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