Eat the Document was intended to be a TV documentary on Bob Dylan’s 1966 European tour, produced for ABC Stage 67, a prestigious showcase for musicals, documentaries, original teleplays and short films (everything from a rock musical scored by Burt Bacharach and Hal David to a doc on Masters and Johnson to “Skaterdater”), but the network rejected it for being “incomprehensible.” The film captures the madness of that tour and was shot by D. A. Pennebaker, who’d also made Don’t Look Back, the documentary of Dylan’s 1965 tour. Pennebaker’s version was called “Something Is Happening.” The retitled Eat the Document was cut by Dylan himself with Howard Alk, but the network still didn’t want it.
Eat the Document wasn’t seen at all until the early 70s when it was screened at New York’s Academy of Music and the Whitney Museum. Shitty bootleg copies have floated around for decades (I had one that was barely watchable) but in recent years a super clean digital copy has been seen on torrent trackers, and occasionally on YouTube. Dylan was, and is, alleged to hate it, which is why you should probably watch this sooner rather than later. There’s always a bit of Whac-A-Mole going on with Eat the Document there, I’ve noticed.
In the film we see Dylan tired, jamming with Johnny Cash, onstage with The Band (then still called The Hawks) writing songs with Robbie Robertson and wearily dealing with members of the media. Some of the infamous footage of Dylan riding around in a limo with John Lennon (Lennon claimed Dylan had gotten him high on heroin beforehand) is also seen in the film.
Thank you Glen E. Friedman of New York City!