November 25, 2007

I'm Not There

How do you make a movie about Bob Dylan? Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) decided to explode the mythical, iconic Dylan by illustrating discrete pieces of the Dylan legend, each with its own story, and each with its own actor. The result: A surprisingly successful impressionistic collage, exploring who Bob Dylan was: to himself, to the public, to the press.

Marcus Carl Franklin is "Woody Guthrie", the 11-year-old black boy in 1960, who represents the young Bobby Zimmerman's adolescent soul. I know it sounds totally corny, but it works. Christian Bale is "Jack Rollins", the early Protest Dylan, all chambray shirts and humorlessness, before the cynicism kicked in. Heath Ledger is "Robbie", the domestic Dylan, who falls in love with a French woman (the montage is set to "I Want You", of course) but can't make himself emotionally available, or keep his cyncism from seeping in. Ben Whishaw is "Arthur Rimbaud", the inner philosopher, who answers the questions about life no one asks Dylan in reality. Richard Gere is "Pat Garrett", the withdrawn hermit Dylan. Does this represent Dylan's post-motorcycle crash 18-month sabbatical, when Dylan got off the carousel and tried to leave his public life behind? Perhaps this represents the older Dylan and his withdrawal from public life.

All of these pieces don't fit together so much as complement each other. I don't think we're any closer to understanding Dylan than we were already, but I'm Not There goes a long way towards justifying his eccentricity. Dylan comes off as a nasty jerk at times, but this movie explains why, even better than the documentary Don't Look Back.

imnotthereCate Blanchett is fantastic as the 1965-66 Dylan who turns away from Protest Folk music towards his own brand of electrified rock. This is the Bob Dylan (or "Jude Quinn", as he's called in these scenes) documented in Don't Look Back: tired of meeting stranger's expectations, surly towards the press and their inane questions, and protective of his art. Blanchett gets all the subtleties of the voice, the mannerisms (especially the fidgeting with cigarettes), and her final shot, where Quinn takes off her Ray-Bans and stares into the camera, was perfect. It reminded me of some of the interview footage in Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home documentary.

I found the movie to be a little bit too long. I felt that the movie made it's points very well, but it didn't need to go on as long as it did. (Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham, with Em and George and Mandy)