Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I'M NOT THERE - a daring conceit that mostly pays off

I accept chaos. I don't know whether it accepts me.I'M NOT THERE is Todd Haynes audacious attempt to make a film, not so much about Bob Dylan's life, as about the way in which Dylan himself manipulated his own image and was in turn manipulated by his fans and the press. Haynes tackles head-on the difficulty of creating a linear, neat biopic about a poet, musician and political icon, who shifted shape so often. Dylan often seemed deperate to make us realise how non-chalant he was of what we thought of him. He wanted to appear aloof and enigmatic. As a result, I get the feeling that Dylan is a paradox and a mystery. But not to the extent that he'd like us to believe! Haynes response to the tangled web of image, fact and manuipulation is to create a collage of scenes, both real and imagined. He takes on a surreal journey into Dylan's alter-egos. He recreates iconic documentary-footage and press conferences. Most notoriously, Haynes casts a number of actors to depict Dylan's various self-creations. He weaves their stories together, leaving the viewer to pick through the minefield of information and misinformation.

I admire the bravery of Haynes' concept and for the most part, I think it pays off. The young actor, Marcus Carl Franklin, is brilliant as Woody-Guthrie-Wannabe-Bob. This was the point where a middle-class Jewish boy with a lovely singing voice transformed himself into an Old Time blues singer, inspired by the laments of the Great Depression and the radicalism that came out of it. He transformed his voice, his name and his stance, in a manner that is as radical as having a teenage white man played by a pre-teen African-Amercan boy. In another incarnation we see the fantastically talented young British actor, Ben Whishaw, play Dylan the Poet. He's filmed face-on to the camera in black and white, explaining his stance on language, politics and poetry. He's already complaining about how slippery language and labels can be - a true post-modernist - and will return throughout the movie. Next up, we have Christian Bale as Acoustic-Folk-Bob, who latches onto the folk movement and takes it from an underground anti-establishment scene to the very heart of the mainstream. In faux-documentary footage, we see a Joan Baez type figure played by Julianne Moore tell us how quickly Dylan put himself in opposition to the movement, becoming cynical about its chances of success. We then have the radical break that will forever define Bob - his use of the electronic guitar and move from political songs to songs of personal experience. Cate Blanchett is note perfect (and painfully thin - intentionally?) as Electro-Bob. She plays Bob at his most scabrous, cynical, manipulative and spikey. It's glorious stuff. Finally, we revert back to Christian Bale as Born-Again-Bob.

All this material is superbly acted and filmed with a technical mastery of different types of film, lens and style. If Haynes had left it at that, he would have had a tightly-knit, fascinating film of about 90 minutes in length. The problem is that he adds two other "Bobs". The first is Actor-Bob who plays Folk-Bob in a movie. He's played by Heath Ledger - the least comvincing portrayal. Actor-Bob has a long set of scenes with Charlotte Gainsbourg playing his wife. I suppose the point of these scenes is to show us how cruel Dylan was to some of the women in his life. I thought this could have been more effectively portrayed by expanding the role of the Joan Baez figure in the Folk-Bob scenes. The second redundant Bob is Richard Gere's portryal of Bob as a Billy the Kid figure. Gere is fine in this role, but the segment seemed the most pointless, the most random and the least well though out.

I'M NOT THERE played Venice 2007 where Todd Haynes won the Special Jury Prize and Cate Blanchett won the Volpi Cup. It also played Toronto, London and Vienna 2007. It opened in Italy, the US, Denmarl. Canada, France, Finland, Belgium and the UK in 2007. It is currently on release in Israel and opens in Norway on January 18th. It opens in Austria on February 1st, Sweden on February 8th, Germany on February 28th, the Czech Republic on March 6th, the Netherlands on March 13th and Japan on May 17th 2008.

1 comment:

  1. I am dylan fan and i thoroughly enjoyed that movie .. its a journey of an extraordinary man who didnt want to be labeled or categorised ... he did nt understand good and bad but
    knew their nuances too well.. strong with imagery .. good that you blogged about this movie