Roger Ebert admits that until he saw Martin Scorcese's No Direction Home he never really forgave Bob Dylan for the behavior he exhibited in D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back (1967):
In my review, I called the movie "a fascinating exercise in self-revelation," and added: "The portrait that emerges is not a pretty one." Dylan is seen not as a "lone, ethical figure standing up against the phonies," I wrote, but is "immature, petty, vindictive, lacking a sense of humor, overly impressed with his own importance and not very bright."
I felt betrayed. In "Don't Look Back," he mercilessly puts down a student journalist, and is rude to journalists, hotel managers, fans. . .
Well, it's hard to be gracious and understanding, I'd guess, when you're writing and recording some of the most innovative and entrancing popular music ever recorded and the best those you're performing it for can do is heckle and jeer. It's not that Dylan was attempting to be the "lone, ethical figure standing up against the phonies." He was trying to push his talent as far as it would take him, which also meant he had to leave the earnest folk music that made him popular behind. You'd think that those who had previously professed to admire him for his music--as opposed to the political posturing they apparently thought that music represented--might have been willing to give him a little room in which to do this.
People who still prefer Dylan the early protest singer probably have never really "gotten" what he was up to in such albums as Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. His turn to surrealism and other forms of hallucinatory lyricism required that he abandon the folk ballad-derived melodies with which he began for the fuller rock-based sound to be found on these records. (Although of course the influence of these ballads would always remain.) In the process he transformed rock 'n roll into a form of popular music capable of a kind of aesthetic seriousness, a form that in the hands of other talented people as well (John Lennon, Pete Townsend, Neil Young) could extend its own musical possibilities and sometimes express complex sentiments and ideas.
These albums did undeniably mark a kind of repudiation of the politicized folk music those fans in Pennebaker's film wanted to protect. But I don't think Dylan wanted to dismiss this music altogether; he merely wanted to illustrate through example that it had its inherent limitations. Ultimately Dylan was more interested in music per se and in lyrical content as a continuation and complement of purely musical values than in "protest," in "saying something." To me the hectoring audiences captured in Pennebaker's film and sampled by Scorsese represent a view of "folk music" as virtuous attitude rather than as what Dylan later called that "old, strange music." It's what makes so much of this music from the early 1960s almost unlistenable now.