Young Dylan, the man of ideas

"Dylan Speaks," a DVD from Eagle Media, lets us revisit a revealing moment in the career of the revolutionary young poet named Bob Dylan — a scene that underscored how difficult it was for the mainstream media to make sense of the most important songwriter of the 20th century.

The disc replays a 1965 Dylan news conference in San Francisco that was organized by noted pop critic and Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph J. Gleason for a local television station.

By the time Dylan taped the 53-minute conference on Dec. 3, he was already a national sensation — and puzzle. Peter, Paul & Mary had recorded his "Blowin' in the Wind," the Turtles had scored a hit with "It Ain't Me, Babe," the Byrds had put "Mr. Tambourine Man" on the charts and Dylan himself was all over the radio with "Like a Rolling Stone."

The press, accustomed to mindless teen pop acts that were here today and gone tomorrow, had been slow to catch on to the artistry and influence of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and here was someone even more difficult to access. He wasn't just singing about sex and rebellion, but of ideas and government.

This DVD edition of Backtracking also offers glimpses at some other classic pop-rock figures, including Presley and Bobby Darin.

Bob Dylan
"Dylan Speaks" (Eagle Media)

Unlike the way Dylan seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in confronting the questioners in scenes from a British news conference that were included in the landmark documentary "Don't Look Back," he seems to try to answer questions in this news conference. He is totally respectful, for instance, when talking to Gleason and others. But he has difficulty with questions that don't have to do with the music.

Consider this exchange with Rollin Post, a mainstream journalist who would go on to become one of San Francisco's most respected TV political commentators. Post accurately senses in Dylan's shy manner a discomfort with celebrity and asks:

"Mr. Dylan, you seem very reluctant to talk about the fact you are a popular entertainer."

Dylan: "What do you want me to say about it … ?"

Post: "You seem almost embarrassed by it "

Dylan: "I'm not embarrassed. What do you want exactly [for] me to say? Jump up and say, 'Hallelujah,' and crash the cameras? And do something weird?"

The scene is funny and illuminating at the same time, one that speaks to the mystery of a man whose art was (and remains) so majestic that it's never easy to figure him out.

As the only full Dylan news conference from that era available on commercial video or DVD, "Dylan Speaks" is a memorable document. On the Internet, you can even find the names of almost everyone who asked a question that day and the stories that some of the journalists wrote about the conference. The Web address is impossibly long, but Google it by using "Bob Dylan," "press conference" and "Ralph Gleason." Look for a site that begins "Dylan pool."

In brief

Elvis Presley
"Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows" (Image Entertainment)

We've seen the Elvis performances from the Ed Sullivan TV variety show in other video packages, but not in their original context. Just as Image did two years ago in releasing "The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles," this three-disc package, produced by Andrew Solt, lets us watch Elvis perform such tunes as "Don't Be Cruel" and "Heartbreak Hotel" the same way viewers did in 1956. That means we see him sandwiched in between Sullivan's usual array of comedians, Broadway vocalists and dog acts — all of which makes the performances on the three shows seem more revolutionary. The set will be released Tuesday.

Bobby Darin
"Bobby Darin {mdash} Seeing Is Believing" (Hyena) Though Darin has been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there is still considerable debate about whether he was really a rock 'n' roll artist. Maybe, maybe not. But there's no question he was one of the most talented and versatile figures of the modern pop era — someone who displayed excellence in whatever genre he attempted, from rock to mainstream pop, country, R&B and folk. "Seeing" brings together 19 Darin TV performances for the first time, most of them taken from his 1973 NBC series. Among the highlights: a version of "I've Got You Under My Skin," which enables the late singer to both show off his Sinatra-like pop sensibilities and his individuality.

Roy Orbison
"In Dreams" (Orbison/Legacy)Most DVD documentaries are painfully superficial because they focus on celebrity rather than artistry, but this 90-minute production is an exception. Through interviews with nearly two dozen artists, including Bruce Springsteen and Barry Gibb, the documentary offers insights into Orbison's gifts as a songwriter. For too long, Orbison has been lauded only for his singing. Orbison's widow, Barbara, was executive producer of "In Dreams," which includes Orbison performing such hits as "Only the Lonely," "Crying" and "Running Scared."

Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD or DVD retrospectives.