By: Joyce Mitchell, Governor and Gold & Silver Committee Chair
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Reporters filled a studio at San Francisco Educational TV Station KQED in 1965 to cover the legendary, 51-minute news conference held by Musician Bob Dylan. An overview of what happened that day and so many other stories are now captured in a new book just released by Bay Area Film Director Robert Zagone.
Propped-up on a platform, smoking nonstop, Dylan carved out a piece of rock history during that famous question- answer session. And Zagone was there, producing and directing the 2-camera film shoot for the world to see.
Back then, rock was not deemed important enough to warrant long news conferences. Dylan set the tone for future rockers – like the Beatles and Rolling Stones – to follow suit.
Out of the 4th and Bryant Street TV station, magic was made. San Francisco’s growing subculture prompted young and energetic broadcasters to take notice and document what they were seeing. Zagone was one of them.
That famous Dylan footage exists under the auspices of Ralph J. Gleason who acquired the footage from KQED immediately after the news conference was held. Gleason, back in the day, was a well-known music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Today, the Gleason Estate continues to promote the event on DVD and other media. That news conference has gone down in history, been studied, analyzed and used in numerous articles, books, and documentaries.
The press opportunity had evolved into a cut and thrust for Dylan. Zagone paid close attention as reporters tried to brand Dylan as the spokesperson for a new generation. Refuting the inference, Dylan turned somewhat self-effacing, mocking himself as a simple “song and dance man.”
And then, Dylan’s answers began trending toward obliqueness as a shield. At one point, he said something like, “What do you want me to do? Attack the cameras?”
That unforgettable moment influenced the title of Zagone’s self-published book, ATTACK THE CAMERAS! Musings of an Independent Film and TV Director. “Dylan and that press conference helped me name the book, for sure,” said Zagone.
Stories included in the book are vast and memorable. At one point, Zagone invited an unknown Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company to perform on KQED. It was the first time that Joplin and her band would appear live on TV.
Pushing the envelope sometimes gets a little push-back. Zagone heard from the director of development, in charge of raising money for the station who asked, “why are these scruffy-looking people here?” He continued, “How on earth is the station expected to get people donating to public television listening to that screeching voice?”
Zagone responded, “I’ll tell you why I’m doing this show. It’s because someday that singer you are seeing is going to be really famous. I didn’t know how big of a star she would become.” He said that he just had an innate feeling that the group and Joplin were something special.
ATTACK THE CAMERAS! draws on Zagone’s memories of the past. Add to the list of firsts for the energetic film director and KQED, B.B. King. Zagone produced and directed the first national television appearance by the blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. Zagone muses with fond recollections. “The show was such a delight and the band loved seeing themselves on camera,” said Zagone.
He maintains the 60’s and 70’s were the golden years of television. “A lot of talented people migrated to KQED to work and volunteer, said Zagone. “It was sort of like getting a master’s degree in film and television. Many went on to extraordinary careers, some won Academy Awards.”
Zagone, himself, has received a great deal of recognition for his work, including a Regional Emmy in 1995. “For years, I’ve been telling stories about meeting all these wonderful people,” he said. “During the pandemic, I thought this is a perfect time to write a book and I took all those stories and decided to bring them to life.”
“I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” said Zagone. “Colleagues have really enjoyed going back and reliving those times of working in film with creative people in the Bay Area. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
At 85, Zagone’s still going strong. And still making a little bit of history, himself. “I got a call from my old friend and colleague Danny Glover about doing a commercial for an insurance company in the middle of the pandemic,” said Zagone. “I put together a crew for him and asked my old cameraman to direct for me. But he got COVID, and I stepped in at the last minute. At the time I was 82.”
Zagone said directing felt like riding a bike. He didn’t skip a beat. A big smile came out of that project when Zagone asked the crew, “how many of you have ever worked with an 82-year-old director before?”
As for what’s next? A low budget feature film. And after that, we’ll just have to wait and see. The answer…my friends…is Blowing in the Wind.
Zagone’s book ATTACK THE CAMERAS! Musings of an Independent Film and TV Director is now available on Amazon.
Video link: Bob Dylan San Francisco Press Conference 1965