Monday, May 12, 2008

I’m Not There: My Prose and Cons

Disclaimer: I am a Dylan fan. Seeing this film was therefore obligatory.

The film I'm Not There was a freewheelin' take on another side of Bob Dylan, and another and another and another….

I have read half dozen Dylan bios and his Chronicles, own most of his albums, listened to the Dylan hour for years and still wasn’t sure what I thought about this film… OK, Dylan is enigmatic and it maybe makes sense to be enigmatic in telling his story. But did it have to be THIS enigmatic?

What follows then are my observations using Dr. Edward de Bono’s PIN method approach. That is, everything has a positive, interesting and negative aspect. If we get our analytical side awakened, it will help us avoid kneejerk reactions.

Positives
1. Cate Blanchett… not just the mannerisms but the script Haynes gives her is simply wonderful. She is actually hilarious at times, and profound often. I would love to hear what she thinks about Dylan after having played Dylan

2. In a movie that doesn’t play by the conventional rules of story telling you can potentially inject some really profound insights with new ways of seeing things that create memorable a-hahs.

3. The film offers serious insights about the culture of celebrity and the challenge of being a whole person when standing in the searing spotlight of Fame. >>> John Lennon’s recluse years come to mind here.

4. Dylan music throughout

Interesting
1. Funny line Cate Blanchett delivers when she asks “Am I the only one who has any balls around here?” Pure irony.

2. Truly original, non-linear film. Writer/director Haynes took risks to make this film in light of the challenges it would encounter in terms of mass appeal.

3. A Negro Dylan… That’s interesting. I do understand where that comes from.

4. Interesting how the different actors played Dylan.

5. I heard some criticism beforehand of Gere’s portion, but I had no such problem once you buy in. I’d seen Billy the Kid a couple times and, well, it is what it is.

Negative
My problems with the movie (which I watched twice in a row.)

1. The six characters had six different names, which made it a challenge to follow what purported to be a story line about a person.

2. The first character, Woody Guthrie (Dylan), mumbled lines that were hard to decipher and we missed things…. seems that if Haynes wrote the lines, they should be delivered in a manner that we can understand the words, even if we don’t understand meanings. This was the first character and it may have been intended to be comical, but it didn’t work. Interesting idea poorly executed.

3. For some reason I expected to see a linear story with a different character representing different eras in Dylan’s life. Instead the film is a shuffling together of his various personas in pretty much the same time frames, with the naturally difficult confusion.

4. No apparent storyline… which means the viewer is never really able to get lost in the film. Because it takes so much effort to figure things out it is too much like work and not really fun (until one gives up trying, and just goes with it the second time around.)

*****************************

This is definitely not a film for everyone. What follows are some excerpts from the IMDb.com reviews of the movie. The great majority were very positive, so you can go there to read them. I tack these on because they add some insight as to why I’m Not There pretty much failed at the box office, despite fawning reviews by the critics.

In "Chronicles, Volume One" Dylan dwells on the moment when he stumbled across Rimbaud's declaration "Je est un autre" which translates into English: "I is someone else". Dylan writes: "When I read those words the bells went off. It made perfect sense. I wish someone would have mentioned it to me earlier." That insight has sustained Dylan thru all his multiple personalities, finger pointing folkie, rock & roll rebel, Nashville good ol' boy (Oh me oh my, love that country pie), tormented lover, Born Again Christian. When he performed on his first album, aged 21, he was trying to summon up the voice of a 60 year old blues singer.

Nowhere in the film do we get a glimpse of the excitement that surrounded Dylan's emergence as an artist, or the kind of musical poetry that brought Allen Ginsburg to tears. While the film has some of the great Dylan songs, some sung by Bob and some by stand-ins, there is nothing deeply felt here and Haynes fails to capture the passion and inspiration of his music. Bob Dylan is not a series of archetypes or shifting faces. He is a poet, an artist, a musician, a man who had something important to say and said it in a way that articulated the built-up frustrations of an entire generation. In I'm Not There, in spite of the conceit of the multiple actors, there is only one Dylan - the shadow - masked and anonymous, not the man - vital and creatively alive.

Unless you know a lot about Bob Dylan and the context in which he lived - Vietnam War, folk music ... - you will be completely lost while watching this film. I went into it knowing virtually nothing about him, and really learned nothing from watching this. In fact, after about an hour, I think I slipped into unconsciousness a few times, wondering if I had been reborn in one of the 16 hell realms.

A classic case of the Emporers new clothes!

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