Why John Lennon Was Reluctant to Appear in a Film With Bob Dylan

John Lennon and Bob Dylan are not primarily considered movie stars but they both made their mark on cinema. John and Dylan even appeared in a film together once. Here’s why John was “frightened” to appear in the film.

Bob Dylan holding a guitar
Bob Dylan | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The only movie that Bob Dylan and John Lennon appeared in together

In Jann S. Wenner’s book 1971 Lennon Remembers, John opens up about his relationship to Dylan somewhat. He briefly discusses his appearance in Eat the Document, a 1966 film about Dylan directed by Dylan. According to Rolling Stone, Eat the Document contains the only footage of John and Dylan together. Considering how John and Dylan were both popular members of the same musical generation, it’s rather surprising they only appeared together on film once.

The film depicts John and Dylan high together in a limousine. There, they discuss everything from World War II to The Beatles to The Mamas and the Papas. John had lots of negative emotions abut appearing in the film, saying he was “frightened” to be in it.

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“I’ve never did see it,” John revealed. He added that he “was so frightened, you know. I was always so paranoid and Bob said ‘I want you to be in this film’…. [And] I thought why? What? He’s going to put me down; I went all through this terrible thing.” John discussed how he came across in Eat the Document.

“So in the film, I’m just blabbing off and commenting all the time, like you do when you’re very high [and] stoned,” John said. “We were being smart alecks…. But it was his scene. That was the problem for me. It was his movie and I was on his territory. That’s why I was so nervous.” It’s certainly a testament to Dylan’s importance that even a celebrity as iconic as John was intimidated by him.

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Why ‘Eat the Document’ didn’t get released until the 1990s

In the early 1970s, John still hadn’t seen Eat the Document. Most audiences wouldn’t get to see it either for a long time. According to the book The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966, Dylan intended the film for broadcast on ABC-TV.

However, the network rejected the film because of its odd editing style. For years, Eat the Document circulated only through bootleg copies. In a way, this is fitting, as bootleg recordings are a substantial part of Dylan’s musical output.

Bob Dylan wearing a suit
Bob Dylan | Evening Standard/Getty Images

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Rolling Stone reports it wasn’t until 1998 that the film garnered a limited release in theaters. To this day, the scene where John interacts with Dylan is the most famous moment from Eat the Document. Perhaps John hesitated to appear in the film, but his onscreen interaction with Dylan will always remain an interesting footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history.