26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Successful Exploration and Cinematic Investigation of an Artist,
This review is from: I'm Not There (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (DVD)
I'M NOT THERE is clearly not a movie for everyone. The concept of the film is experimental, the execution of the 'documentary' is actually an amalgam of the aura and influence of one man in the music world instead of a linear history of a famous singer/poet, and the goal seems more to find the effect of Bob Dylan's chameleon persona on those people with whom he came into contact than it is to relate the story of a fascinating and important American artist.
Writer (with Oren Moverman) and Director Todd Haynes ('Far from Heaven', 'Velvet Goldmine') has gathered images, memorabilia, fragments of interviews, and responses from acquaintances and from these he has pieced together a quilt-like panorama of the enigmatic, elusive, ever-changing Bob Dylan. The result is not meant to be a precise history, but instead a 'feeling' for the man who so profoundly influenced American music in the 1960s. Haynes selected several top actors to inhabit various aspects of Dylan's life and times. The Narrator for this both black and white and color film is symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Winshaw) who through a series of comments opens the vignettes that reflect Dylan. Eleven-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin radiates the energy of Woody Guthrie when he is suggesting the early formative influences of Dylan. Christian Bale becomes 'Jack Rollins', among the closest of the actors to impersonate the performing Dylan. Heath Ledger embodies the love-life side of Dylan's character with the Claire of Charlotte Gainsbourg while Cate Blanchett comes closest to showing us the inverted personality as Jude Quinn - the name assigned to the character who most resemble Dylan's appearance and talk and physical reactions to the public, the press, and the audience. And as an homage to Dylan's preoccupation with history, the final version of Dylan becomes Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) in the surreal town of Riddle. Other important characters pass through this musical mélange - Julianne Moore comments as Alice Fabian, a Joan Baez-type figure, Michelle Williams becomes Coco for a moment, and Bruce Greenwood has double roles suggesting influences from the height of Dylan's career to his old age.
Throughout the film the music of Bob Dylan pervades the soundtrack, the tunes as important as the timely poetry of his lyrical output. The film is as strange as the man who inspired it, and Todd Haynes and his amazing cast of actors give us an impressive slice of our history as well as an appreciation of the aura of the strangely haunting Bob Dylan. In extended featurettes on the CD the director and cast give wonderful insights both into the character of Dylan as well as the concept of creating this amazing film. For some, watching these introductions BEFORE watching the actual movie may enhance appreciation of this art piece. Highly recommended - but the audience must understand this is not a routine movie! Grady Harp, May 08
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 8, 2008 11:38:58 AM PDT
Really great review Grady!! I can't wait to see this!! ;)
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Posted on Sep 28, 2011 11:45:08 AM PDT
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B. Tweed DeLions says:
Grady, your review is right on target.
I really felt good when I saw this movie for the first time. Why? Because I figured out Bob Dylan's secret even before the director of this film did. And I figured it out on my own as I was reading Anthony Scaduto's 1971 biography on Bob Dylan. But I didn't read it until the early 1990s.
Here's the secret of Bob Dylan, as well as the controlling metaphor behind the movie: In a certain sense, Bob Dylan the artist doesn't exist! hence the title "I'm Not There."
Bob Dylan is a fictional character who happens to be a folksinger, and who was invented by Bob Zimmerman. Unlike novelists, who invent characters and put them into books, Bob Zimmerman invented a character he named Bob Dylan, and then he stepped into the role himself. He became a walking novel, a flesh and blood projection of an invented character.
I discovered this while reading Scaduto's biography and I felt stupid that it had never occurred to me before. Suddenly all of Dylan's inscrutable and enigmatic behavior became clear to me.
When Bob Dylan got to college he had already started inhabiting the character he invented for himself. He told people that he had been on the road since he was 14 years old, that he had traveled around the country hitching rides on freight trains, that he had played in small bars with some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, like Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), etc. And none of it was true! Not one word of it. In other words, he was inventing a fictional history for himself just as a novelist would invent a fictional history for a character.
Apparently he felt he had to do this in order to become the folk singer he wanted to be. The reason so many different actors portray Dylan in this movie is that they each represent different aspects of the alter-ego he invented for himself and continually reinvents.
Once you can understand these things then it suddenly becomes clear why he was so evasive and combative with reporters all his life. Not because he was afraid he would be caught in a lie, but because he didn't want his real personality to interfere with the creative process he had begun by taking on an alter-ego. He didn't want reporters to interrupt his *creative flow*. So he used them as grinding stones on which to *sharpen* his alter-ego.
LOL! And they unwittingly played right into his hand.
Somewhere early in his creative process he must have discovered that his alter-ego had more talent than his real self. Novelists have often discovered the same thing. They start writing about a character and suddenly the character takes over the story, refuses to follow the plot, refuses to speak dialogue that doesn't suit her, argues and even fights with the author. And the story starts coming out in a way that the author never intended and may not even be happy with! A strong fictional character can either kill a novel, by interfering with it, or make a novel far better that it would have been by making it more real. There's no predicting.
In my opinion, this brilliant discovery makes Bob Dylan perhaps the greatest artist of the 20th century. Why?
1) Because he took a creative trick of the trade and pushed it to lengths seldom envisioned before, essentially creating himself as an artist rather than creating art. He also created art. But before he did, he created the *artist* who then created the art. This is of profound relevance to all artists.
2) The art he actually created is almost beyond peer. He became perhaps the most poetic (and prolific, with over 1,400 published songs) songwriter of the 20th century and of history in general.
3) In the process he changed society. His influence on the 20th century is incalculable. His songs have been a huge inspiration for social and political activists, even though he has wisely stayed out of the line of fire, letting his songs speak for themselves, refusing to allow anyone to pull him into political causes.
4) He has been a huge influence for his fellow artists. Most of the top artists of the 1960s list him as a strong influence. But beyond that, he has influenced artists of many fields as well as thinkers in general, because there is a strong current of philosophy flowing through his art. He's not just an entertainer. He's a thinker, and one of the most clever social commentators in history. He's following in the shoes of writers like Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain.
For all these reasons, I would put Bob Dylan right up there with Picasso and Mozart as one of the most influential artists in history.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 4, 2011 9:46:23 AM PST
Steve Kohn says:
B. Tweed, your "mere" comments are better than most of the reviews. You'd serve us all well if you'd copy/paste them into a review of your own rather than tailing onto another's.
Myself, I'm not such a big fan of Dylan -- too much pretense, I guess -- but you've helped me understand him a lot better. Thanks.
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