Bob Dylan: the movie years 2001/2005

By Tony Attwood

After writing and recording “Love and Theft” Bob Dylan entered another sparse period of song writing, and indeed much of the 21st century can be characterised in terms of a far less active period of composition than earlier in Bob’s life.

But then he was getting a little bit older by now.  And Bob did not give up composing completely at this time, as four movie songs were written in this period: Waitin’ for You composed after Love and Theft in 2001, Cross the Green Mountain in 2002 and then after a pause in 2005 we had Tell Ol’ Bill and Can’t escape from you

The two best known of these are “Cross the Green Mountain” for “Gods and Generals” while “Tell Ol Bill” was written for North Country.

Opinions about these two songs from the middle of the sequence differ considerable; or maybe I should say everyone else rates “Cross the Green Mountain” as a minor masterpiece, while I simply don’t get that song at all but think Tell Ol Bill is one of the greatest songs Dylan ever created.

In terms of the movies for which the songs were created, none of the films was a great success – in fact “Gods and Generals” was a multi-million dollar disaster.

But movie songs, although needing to have a reference point in the film, also need to be magical performances in their own right, to heard alongside the movie, and listened to subsequently as a reminder of the film.

And this is what we get with “Tell Ol Bill.”  It has line after line each of which is utterly memorable and it works for me both as a stand alone song and the song of the movie.

On the other hand I described “Waiting for You” written for “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” as “seriously odd” and I stick with that view, coming back to the piece again now.   As For “Can’t escape from you”, this was written for a movie that seemingly was either never made, or at least made but not released.

Maybe it was the realisation that having gained the Oscar for “Things have changed” but then failed to reach such heights again, that convinced Bob that this writing for the movies lark was not as simple as he had first thought.   For after “Can’t escape from you” Bob gave up on the movies and went back to the albums, composing next the music for “Modern Times”.

The film years were an interesting diversion.  There wasn’t another Oscar, but there was “Tell Ol Bill”.   An absolute total masterpiece in my humble opinion   A revised version of the review has now been placed on this site.

Song of the period: of course, “Tell Ol Bill”.  At the very top of Bob’s creative work.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines


  1. Sometimes you have to hit a mule over the head with a 2 by 4 just to get its attention.

    Dylan is quite consistent in his songs if put in the context of the Romantic outlook in his works as a whole.

    Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains; the innocence of chilhood with all of its potential for goodness becomes corrupted – by unloving parents, or by an uncaring society, or by experiencing adulthood in the face of institutional demands to conform.

    The wonder of life shatters, everything gets broken. Yet for the Romantic individualist, hope springs eternal. If luck is on your side, it merely takes a longer time to be young.

  2. Bob Dylan tangles up Green Mountain and Ol’ Bill quite nicely together through Edgar Allan Poe’s impact on Henry Timrod:

    No more/Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree/Or the stricken eagle soar (To One In Paradise: Poe);

    Beneath the thunder-blasted trees/The words are ringin’ off
    your tongue (Tell Ol’Bill);

    Hope should lend her eagle son/Memory should bring her tears (Perfect Love: Timrod);

    There’s blasphemy on the end of the tongue (Green

    Bob Dylan chooses his words carefully; not because they happen to rhyme.

    The Green Mountain’s intro inspired by Poe:

    And all my days are trances
    And all my nightly dreams/ …
    In what ethereal dances
    By what eternal streams.
    (To One In Paradise)

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