Eat the Document
Bootleg DVD cover
Directed byBob Dylan
Produced byBob Dylan
StarringBob Dylan
Robbie Robertson
Bob Neuwirth
Johnny Cash
John Lennon
Rick Danko
Richard Manuel
Garth Hudson
Music byBob Dylan
CinematographyD. A. Pennebaker
Edited byBob Dylan
Howard Alk
D. A. Pennebaker (additional editing)
Distributed byPennebaker Associates
Release date
  • 1972 (1972)
Running time
52 minutes
CountryUnited States

Eat the Document is a documentary of Bob Dylan's 1966 tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland with the Hawks. The cover photo was taken on the train line between Belfast and Dublin, near Balbriggan. It was shot under Dylan's direction by D. A. Pennebaker, whose groundbreaking documentary Dont Look Back [sic] chronicled Dylan's 1965 British tour. The film was originally commissioned for the ABC television series ABC Stage 67.

Though shooting had completed for the film, Dylan's July 1966 motorcycle accident delayed the editing process. Once well enough to work again, Dylan edited the film himself. ABC rejected the film as incomprehensible for a mainstream audience.

It has never been released on home video and prints are rarely screened in theaters. Some footage from Eat the Document was used in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, and 3 song excerpts are special features on the DVD.


Eat the Document includes footage from the infamous Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, wherein an audience member shouted "Judas!" during the electric half of Dylan's set. Dylan's band during these shows were The Hawks (later to become The Band). Songs from various shows throughout the tour featured in the film include "Tell Me, Momma", "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)", "Ballad of a Thin Man", and "One Too Many Mornings."

Other scenes include Dylan and Robbie Robertson in hotel rooms writing and working through new songs, most of which remain unreleased and unpublished. Among these songs are "I Can't Leave Her Behind", which was later covered by Stephen Malkmus for the I'm Not There soundtrack.

The film also includes a piano duet with Johnny Cash performing Cash's "I Still Miss Someone".

John Lennon scene

Some bootleg versions of Eat the Document include a long scene featuring a possibly alcohol- or drug-impaired Dylan in a limousine with John Lennon on 27 May 1966. As Dylan shows signs of fatigue, Lennon urges him to get a grip on himself: "Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair? Take Zimdawn!...Come, come, boy, it's only a film. Pull yourself together."[1]

Lennon would later recall in an interview with Rolling Stone that he and Dylan were "both in shades, and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us... I was nervous as shit. I was on his territory, that's why I was so nervous."[2][3]

Background and post production

According to Howard Sounes's biography, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, after his motorbike accident in July 1966, Dylan viewed a cut of the material edited by Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth and thought it was too similar to Dont Look Back.

Despite having no filmmaking training, Dylan decided to re-edit the film himself, assisted by longtime associate Howard Alk and with (uncredited) assistant editor Gordon Quinn, co-founder of Kartemquin Films. Pennebaker stated: "It's not something you learn parking cars in a garage. You gotta know some of the rules and he didn't know any of the rules." Dylan and Alk's cut was eventually shown to ABC television, who promptly rejected it as incomprehensible to a mainstream audience.[4]

Commenting on the film when it was screened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in December 1972, New York Times critic Vincent Canby quotes from the program notes written by Howard Alk, describing the reaction of ABC Television as "What city are we in? What's happening?" According to Canby, Alk then explains: "Instead of trying to re-create the 'real' event with a vérité documentary approach, the editors looked for what each shot itself wanted to be. Conservations unheld, events untranspired. Some real music, some not. Murder, villainy, slavery and lust. We hope a real movie. Perhaps even a comedy."[5][6]

Bootleg releases

Eat The Document was never given a theatrical release or made commercially available on VHS or DVD, but unauthorized bootleg copies circulate among Dylan collectors.


Some of the concert footage shot for Eat the Document - including the "Judas" incident in Manchester's Free Trade Hall - was used in Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary, No Direction Home.

Todd Haynes's film 2008 I'm Not There features a nod to the cab ride with Lennon, featuring Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.


  1. ^ Mojo, Launch Issue, October 1993, p.60
  2. ^ Rolling Stone article: "The Rolling Stone Interview: John Lennon, Part II"
  3. ^ There's a Riot Going On by Peter Doggett, p. 537.
  4. ^ Howard Sounes. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. Doubleday 2001 p258 ISBN 0-552-99929-6
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 1, 1972). "Dylan's '66 European Tour at the Whitney". The New York Times. p. 31. Retrieved February 9, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Rapp, Alison (February 8, 2021). "Why Bob Dylan's 'Eat the Document' was Shelved". Retrieved February 9, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)