The Band’s early days — backing Ronnie Hawkins in dangerous juke joints followed by the group’s right-place-right-time enlistment as Bob Dylan’s backing band during his transition from revered folkie to electric artist – should be a familiar one to fans of both artists. What Down in the Flood: Associations and Collaborations does is move beyond those moments through a combination of vintage film clips from the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as interviews with Band member Garth Hudson, Hawkins, producer John Simon and several Dylan scholars.
Despite the DVD’s billing it’s the Band’s story that unfolds and intersects with Dylan’s musical changes. The 114-minute documentary begins in the early 1960s when Canadians Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Hudson hooked up with Hawkins and Arkansas native Levon Helm. The musicians eventually “graduate” from Hawkins’ School of Hard Knocks and venture off on their own. While it is frustrating that the doc doesn’t even contain past interviews with any other members of the Band, it is commendable for smoothly navigating through much of both artists’ collected history. It settles on specific periods: Dylan’s electric shows with the members of the Band, the idyllic life in Woodstock and recording of the Basement Tapes, Dylan’s movement towards country music, the recording of Music from Big Pink and The Band, reunion on Dylan’s Planet Waves, the ’74 tour and the Last Waltz. Unfortunately, a cursory wrap up concentrates more on Dylan’s touring ways and ignores any Band music, sans Robertson, in the ‘90s as well as solo endeavors.
With visual treats and kernels of additional insight revealed on Down in the Flood, it’s enough to satisfy the hunger to understand the combination of fate and creativity that marked their union. At the end Dylan and Band biographer Sid Griffin opines that both artists were one of the “great mutually beneficial pop weddings of all time.” With membership that spread through Canada to Minnesota (and New York) and the South and influences that encapsulated each territory, he views Dylan with the Band as a package that represented North America. Together, they created a musical composite of lyrics and sound that voiced the drama of ordinary lives and daily struggles, and developed a magic that didn’t last long as a working relationship but remains as significant today as it was then and will be for future generations.