Friday, January 04, 2008

I'm Not There

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007) [9]
By eschewing the traditional story arc that has begun to symbolize the musician bio picture, Haynes creates a film much more exciting and daring than a standard picture. It is a bit surprising to me that this film has been generally accepted by critics because it is quite possibly the most experimental narrative film made by an American filmmaker in quite some time. Haynes uses the many lives and music of Bob Dylan to create a portrait of the artist and all he's been called over the years: a poet, a fraud, a voice of a generation, mostly an open-ended man. By using six different actors to embody Dylan, Haynes is able to go many more places and capture a different phase of Dylan. There's Dylan as a young black child, attempting to pass himself off as Woody Guthrie and creating his own existence. There's Christian Bale as the earnest folk singer Dylan, bristling under the expectations and adoration as the voice of his generation only to go away and be born again. There's Dylan simply as the poet, as Arthur Rimbaud, made to give answers. Heath Ledger plays an actor that once portrayed Bale's character in a movie only to see his celebrity cripple his marriage. There's Dylan as the mythical outlaw Billy the Kid, hiding from the outside world to live down his legend. And we get the pill-popping, press antagonizing Dylan of Don't Look Back, played by Cate Blanchett. This section of the film is mesmerizing filmmaking, taking heavy influences from mid to late 60s Godard and Fellini. Blanchett captures Dylan as a man against the world, playing games with the press who take him too seriously. It's the centerpiece of the film, in one way because it's the most interesting but also because it's the jumping off point for where the mythologizing of Dylan begins. Bruce Greenwood as the dogged journalist who eventually uncovers the real Jude Quinn stands for the probing fascination the world has had with the man. That he never gets a straight answer isn't a coincidence. This isn't a film meant to have any answers about the man's life. Haynes creates a structure that allows him to move fluidly between each of the six characters with no semblance of continuity in the narrative. What I'm Not There does is capture a series of ideas and examinations. The Billy the Kid scenes with Richard Gere may not seem like it makes sense but after thinking about it, those scenes are an examination of the Greil Marcus mythologizing of an Americana that Dylan embodies. Stylistically, it it Haynes playing Sam Peckinpagh, as Dylan once played in a role in his film about Billy the Kid. Haynes is really playing with the idea of myth and everything that the culture has put into or upon Dylan over the years. His one binding factor through all is the music, both original and covers that while not telling the story, definitely reinforce it. Instead of searching for answers, Haynes lets the music and his images say all that needs to be said.

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