Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Film Decade List #15: I'm Not There (2007)

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, USA, 2007)

The greatest attribute I can give to I'm Not There is that it's nothing like a conventional biopic. In a decade that has seen a host of musical figures have their lives reduced to a middling, middlebrow awards grabber, Haynes should get a lot of credit for his daring take on Bob Dylan. The follows not just the life of Dylan but is more of a thematic examination of the man, his work, and whatever people have called him over the years: poet, voice of a generation, fraud, you name it. The big news here was that Haynes uses six different actors to portray Dylan or various images of him, some being young black boy pretending to be Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) to the renowned performance by Cate Blanchett as the mid-60s, post Don't Look Back Dylan. Some performances are more direct representations of the man, some like the Woody and Billy segments exist as metaphor or are being woven out of the mythology that has been created around Dylan since the 60s. Reflecting on this recently, the element of the film that really strikes me is not so much any of the plot points but how Haynes has constructed the film stylistically. The Woody/young black Dylan segments have touches of New Hollywood. The Jude Quinn sequence has strong Godard and Fellini elements. Godard bubbles up again in the Arthur Rimbaud sequences. The one element that seems odd at first viewing but may be the film's crux is the Billy (Richard Gere) segment. It's Haynes channeling Peckinpagh filmicly but it most closely resembles the old, weird America that Greil Marcus used in describing 'The Basement Tapes.' This may be the point of the film that truly gets to the center of what Dylan is all about, an unique amalgamation of various of American musical styles, deeply rooted in the past but distinctly modern. The Jude/Blanchett scenes may the most attention-grabbing scenes but the soul of I'm Not There reside in those Billy sections.

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