Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm Not There

Last Tuesday, as part of the Green Mountain Film Festival, I caught Todd Haynes' much-talked-about Dylan biopic I'm Not There. Like everyone else that's seen the movie, I have a few opinions on it:

♪ Going into the film, I had heard rave reviews for Cate Blanchett's performance and boos for Richard Gere's. Perhaps I'm just feeling contrarian on this one but I don't see what the big deal was with Blanchett's portrayal of Dylan. Yes, it's interesting to see a woman play a man but it's not like she was recreating the image of Clint Eastwood. It's Dylan and during that era, Dylan had a lot of feminine features. Plus, she was really just mimicking the image of Dylan we've all seen in D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back. She didn't have to bring any new interpretations to the role. She basically just strived to live up to those feelings we had for the original movie. None of the other actors had that luxury.

♪ Regarding Gere's performance, while Gere didn't do much other than wander around some sets that looked like a cross between The Basement Tapes and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, he wasn't given much to work with either. His scenes were easily the most abstract of Dylan creations and perhaps people were just reacting negatively towards that sense of confusion. So, it wasn't so much the actor but what he was given to work with. I don't think any actor could have made those scenes any more clear or compelling.

♪ One thing that saved the Gere scenes and got me to perk up was when Gere rode his horse down the street and came upon...Jim James & Calexico singing on a stage. From digging the soundtrack for the last few months, I was quite aware of their fine performance of "Goin' to Acapulco" but I didn't know that Jim James (in white face) and Calexico were both going to appear in the movie and play most of the song. Nice treat. However, then I kept hoping that Gere would wander upon Antony & the Johnsons doing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Seeing Antony on the big screen would certainly have further perplexed the masses.

♪ My favorite sequences involved Heath Ledger simply because it was the first time I'd ever seen any film try to portray Dylan's years in the late 60's raising kids in Woodstock. Dylan talks about those years in Chronicles Vol. 1 and, now that I'm in the midst of child-rearing years, I found them more interesting. It just makes for a compelling contrast between the public persona of Dylan and the reality of the guy struggling with marriage and spending time with his kids. I have no idea how accurate it was but I'm glad Haynes delved into that era.

♪ I also enjoyed the quick cuts to Ben Whishaw playing Dylan at a press conference during the 60's. Ever since reading Robert Shelton's biography of Dylan, No Direction Home, where he transcribes his contentious press interviews, I've always enjoyed listening to Dylan spar with the media. Whishaw did a good job of bringing those quick clips alive.

♪ My biggest complaint with the film is the same complaint I have about most Dylan books and films...they focus on the 60's and a little bit of the 70's and then completely ignore the rest of his career. I know that people love the 60's and Dylan was a huge part of that tumultuous period but a lot has gone on in Dylan's career since the 70's. Why doesn't anyone ever want to explore what drove him into an artistic rut in the 80's but then rebound with Oh, Mercy; followed by an almost feverish period of touring that still continues today. Plus, in the early 90's, Dylan told Columbia that he would never be recording any new material. Well, what drove him to that decision and then to reverse himself with three strong late career albums? I'd love to see a film that dove into those murky waters and came up with some ideas.

♪ The sold out crowd busted out in applause at the end of the film. Am I the only person that finds that weird? Isn't the purpose of applause to let the performer know you are enjoying their work? But Haynes and the cast are thousands of miles away (and probably don't care). When people applaud in a movie theater, I feel they are just trying to show off how much they loved the film to their fellow film-goers. It's always seemed pretentious to me and when it's an artsy Dylan film, it's even more so.

♪ Oh, I almost forgot...the music was fantastic.


Jedd said...

Haven't seen the movie yet, but I couldn't agree more about applause in movie theaters.

Everyone should find that weird.

I think it's something people do at film festivals, maybe because it feels like "an industry" thing? Don't know.
They deserve an anti-social reply. Not that I ever have.

Anonymous said...

Non Dylan's Stealing of James Damiano's Songs said...

I totally match with anything you have written. said...

There's no doubt, the dude is absolutely just.