8/26/2008

I'm Not There

Yesterday, we saw "I'm Not There", the Todd-Haynes-biopic about Bob Dylan, as the DVD sale started in Germany yesterday.

Dylan is split into six different people, an actor, a folk singer, an electrified troubadour, Rimbaud, Billy the Kid, and Woody Guthrie.

Despite the six incarnations of Bob Dylan, the film doesn't show any structure. There's no narrative, it's a mixture of facts (or what we've come to think of facts of Dylan's life) with the wildest chunks of fiction.

More than once during watching I was confused. The film is a challenge: dense, totally dense, full of quickly changing images, changing from black-and-white to color, full of symbols, allusions, moving back and forth, one step forward, two back - chaotic. My brain wanted to connect - what I knew from Bob Dylan as seen in the Scorsese documentation: No Direction Home with what I saw now - and succeeded only partially.

Yes, the images were impressive, and yes, the music was great with a lot of unknown pieces. The actors did a fine job, especially Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's an enormous and utterly complex attempt to describe and catch the life of an outstanding person - but I'm still irritated and - not there.

With a blur of these images in mind I started to browse the internet for reviews.

I think, Robert Sullivan's article in the New York Times captures the dilemma best:

This is not a Bob Dylan Movie, by Robert Sullivan

...."Because Todd Haynes's Dylan film isn't about Dylan. That's what's going to be so difficult for people to understand. That's what's going to make ''I'm Not There'' so trying for the really diehard Dylanists. That's what might upset the non-Dylanists, who may find it hard to figure out why he bothered to make it at all. And that's why it took Haynes so long to get it made. Haynes was trying to make a Dylan film that is, instead, what Dylan is all about, as he sees it, which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive. The twist is that to not be about Dylan can also be said to be true to the subject Dylan. ''These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don't feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I'm about,'' Dylan himself told an interviewer in 2001. ''It's ludicrous, humorous and sad that such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. . . . You're wasting you own.'' It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes's part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. ''If I told you what our music is really about, we'd probably all get arrested,'' Dylan once said.

Here's the trailer:


3 comments:

Lydia said...

Francessa,
I must admit to you that this is one of only two movies we've rented that we stopped watching before the end. It was just too strange. I appreciate your review more than I appreciated the movie!

francessa said...

Lydia, I was on the verge of suggesting the very same - stop it! I can't take it any longer! The only thing that kept me hanging on was the hope it would became clearer, finally. It didn't.

YogaforCynics said...

I absolutely loved the movie (and wrote my own blog post about it) but honestly can't imagine what it means to anybody who a) doesn't know Dylan's music encylopedically, b) hasn't read at least a couple of books about him, and c) hasn't seen a number of movies about him that are parodied in the film. Oh, and it also helps to know a good bit about the European directors (particularly Godard and Fellini) who Haynes is playing off of in some sections of the film. Then (and this is what my blog post was about), if you can get the basic gist that it's about the various masks this one particular person wears, I think it's possible to see beyond that to something more applicable to anybody, and the roles we all play...or maybe that's just me...or one version of me...or something....

Just wandered in from Lydia land...namaste.

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