A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Dylan In Fragments

Situations have ended sad/Relationships have all been bad/Mine've been like Verlaine and Rimbaud's... BOB DYLAN You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go from Blood On The Tracks

Something about that movie though, well I just can't get it out of my head/But I can't remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play... BOB DYLAN Brownsville Girl from Knocked Out Loaded

Yesterday I went to see with great expectation the new Todd Haynes movie about Dylan at the excellent Broadway Media Centre in Nottingham. Haynes is a self-confessed Dylan fanatic. So this film must have been a labour of love. Not that the making of it went smoothly apparently. But the end result is just fab: inventive and stylish, it's an exuberant and playful homage to the greatest wordsmith in contemporary singer-songwriter culture.

I'm Not There features 6 actors who role-play 6 different stages of Dylan's life and career - embodying different facets of Dylan's protean character in 6 intertwined stories. Cate Blanchett is the impersonatrix who lingers longest in the memory. She plays to perfection the tautly strung, amphetamine-fuelled Dylan of the mid-1960s. It was a touch of directorial genius to pick her for the part. She excels in the brilliant pastiche scenes which recall D. A. Pennebaker's classic documentary Don't Look Back about Dylan's 1965 English tour.

Haynes' biopic must now be the standard against which all future pop/rock biopics will be judged. Really it's an anti-biopic or meta-biopic. He takes all the filmic conventions and throws them against the wall. Fact and fiction are all mixed up. The 6 separate but interlinked stories are shot using completely different cinematic techniques enabling Haynes to tip his hat to other directors he admires such as Richard Lester, Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini. It ought to be chaos. But it isn't.

In effect the film is a huge inside joke. It's packed full of references, some obvious, some obscure, that only people immersed in Dylanworld would understand. Even I am puzzling over the giraffe. As I write this non-Dylanites must be emerging from movie theatres throughout the land bemused and utterly mystified.

I have a few reservations however. There's a certain wired-up, nervy quality to this film which engages the mind rather than the heart. Though the film is brilliantly put together, there remains a nagging feeling that it's all smoke and mirrors. That on a 2nd viewing the dazzling construct will collapse like a house of cards leaving nothing more substantial than the cigarette smoke the androgynous Cate Blanchett aka Jude aka Dylan constantly inhales.

Also it can be weirdly disconcerting when Haynes translates images from Dylan's work into literal screen images, eg the Ku Klux Klan strolling through Riddle, the Desolation Row-like Wild West town, or the tarantula spider in the druggy Fellini-esque sequence. Obvious, or what?

And I really missed glimpsing a more authentic Dylan, for instance that sweet and funny man of creative genius who charms us in Martin Scorsese's unparalleled 2005 documentary No Direction Home. But in this Dylan is "played" by himself...

This movie is a wonderfully knowing study of the nature of film biography and celebrity. Yes, it portrays aspects of Dylan's life and work. But the man is never really there, as we know. And as Todd Haynes knows above all. In a way this film is more about Todd Haynes than Bob Dylan.

Finally a word about the soundtrack. It's magnificent. It's worth going to see the film for this alone. In Nottingham yesterday Dylan's music convinced and bewitched beautifully through the Broadway Cinema's superb sound system.

1 comment:

Mister Roy said...

I think that's a fair review of an unusual film. I saw it as a sort of meditation on Dylan by Todd Haynes and collaborators, with biography as a theme. Agree about the soundtrack, it's great. I found the DVD extras added quite a lot. I'd recommend Far From Heaven, directed by the same guy - beautiful.