Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Ballad Of A.J. Weberman (2006) Film Review
The Ballad Of A.J. Weberman
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
What does it mean to be a fan of a music star? For most people it's just shorthand for describing the music they like to listen to or expressing why they might like to see somebody in performance. Other fans might dream of getting close to the objects of their adulation, but for the most part they recognise that it is just a dream. For A.J Weberman it was always much more than that. Though the relationship he perceives himself as having with Bob Dylan is very much a love/hate affair, his obsession has lasted for a lifetime. He refers to himself as a 'Dylanologist', has tutored classes about the star, has written countless articles about him, and has a large collection of memorabilia - much of it stolen from Dylan's dustbins.
There are words for people like this, but Weberman has developed a language of his own. In his eyes, he is the inventor of 'garbology', a sort of present-day-focused archaeology based around going through celebrities' trash. Some of this, such as his pursuit of Spiro Agnew, has an interesting political aspect to it, and he has been a significant figure in activist movements including one which involved John Lennon and Yoko Ono. There is, of course, also an overlap with certain types of journalism, and this documentary is very well balanced in presenting what might be seen as the socially valid or useful aspects of what Weberman does. It also lets him tell us, in his own words, about the restraining order that has kept him away from his patient wife and chess champion daughter; and about his time in jail; and about the time he annoyed Dylan so much that the star punched him to the ground.
For the most part, being unable to ignore him, Dylan seems to have been extraordinarily patient. The two men have had many telephone conversations, some of which we are treated to here, accompanied by cartoons. Weberman likes to tell Dylan about the secret messages he has discovered in his songs. Dylan tells Weberman he will write him a song and call it 'pig'. There's an intriguing reference to Memo From Turner, the famous song from Performance, which hints at a merging of identity between the two men (at least in Weberman's imagination).
A film like this might be considered exploitative, but such is the public profile Weberman has already created himself that there seems little point in worrying about that. What's more, his obsessive episodes are interspersed with moments of unusual generosity and self-deprecation, in which he cheerfully admits that he has sometimes made mistakes. As such, though one might not want to get too close to him, he's really quite charming. He also has some great friends, several of whom are interviewed here. They clearly love him and we see how devoted he is to them. Rather than being mocked or demonised, he is presented as a rounded human being, which makes him all the more fascinating. One suspects that Dylan, for all his frustration, shares something of this fascination.
"What's amazing is how he always knew, right from the start, that I would be the one," says Weberman of his idol. "I'm like Verlaine to his Rimbaud." The irony, of course, is that he is just one face of a culture of celebrity worship which seems to be growing more unhinged all the time. It's easy to see how this could happen to any person, given a certain level of emotional vulnerability.
The Ballad Of A.J. Weberman is a compelling, acutely observed and curiously touching film which I would venture to call brilliant. You can see it for free at http://www.dailymotion.com/arloblue.Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2009