Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm Not There

I went to see Todd Haynes' new film "I'm Not There" on Saturday. It is fitting that it should be named for an obscure song (recorded once, on the original Basement Tapes, though later reworked according to Dylan into "Going, going, gone" from Planet Waves) that seems to have a mythical life of its own, because this isn't really a biopic but an exploration of various Bob Dylan Fantasies (his own fantasies about himself and America, our fantasies about him and America).

There has been much written about the fact that there are a slew of actors and actresses playing Dylan in this film. My first impression of this was boredom. Dylan already did this himself in his amazing 1977 film Renaldo and Clara (He plays Renaldo, Roger McGuinn plays "Bob Dylan," Joan Baez plays "Pale Shadow of Death"), and much more interestingly (if longer, about 5 hours long I would guess). And my immediate reaction was that this was a more palatable version of Renaldo and Clara (or perhaps "Masked and Anonymous," which I also thought was quite good.). In addition, all three of these movies are crowded with in-jokes and allusions to the Dylan canon ("See You Later, Allen Ginsberg" etc)

However, the more i think about this film the more I like it. Sure, it's much more palatable in a cliche pomo way, but it does make some good points. For one: the trans-gender, elfenness in Cate Blanchett's mind-boggling impersonation of Dylan from 1965-1966 (she imitates him down to the shakiness of the hands). This section is not only the most "accurate" historically, repeating quotes (song lyrics, "She's Your Lover Now" for example) word for word, but it also feels like the center of the film - the most "true" part of the film. And yet, this true part is the one of incredibly transgender simulacra and hallucinations. Dylan declares himself "against nature" (my favorite argument, as readers of this blog may know, is the idea of Dylan as Decadent Dandy).

By contrast, the most traditionally biopic part of the film is the segment where Heath Ledger plays Blood On the Tracks/marriage crackup era Dylan. In this segment, the Dylan character is sexist and "real" (he fights with his wife, cares about his kids etc). The segments feels like just another "Walk the Line," but it's not supposedly about Dylan but about an actor who became famous for playing Dylan a la James Dean in a film about the protest years. It is thus both the most "realistic" and the most conventional, but also the most explicitly false segment.

My favorite part is when Blanchett's Dylan says something like "Folk music is for people who like to pretend that they are divorced from evil. I don't want to divorce myself from evil." To a large extent poetry has become a way for people to imagine themselves outside of evil/capitalism/ideology.


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I really want to see it. Probably be election day '08 before we get it in IC.

I saw a bit of Blanchett's bit on YouTube. I was amazed.

David Cross as Ginsberg? Wild!

I agree with your final point: poetry has become a mask for some people to say they are outside of some norm of society. Like getting an MFA is more like studying at Oxbridge in the 19th century and being Indian :).

Are these people interested in 'poetry' or being 'poets'? A question for another day, perhaps...

8:41 PM  
Blogger CLAY BANES said...

To be outside and to be pure. Which is a sort of fundamentalism.

8:16 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home