I'm Not There

I'm Not There

Todd Haynes' gift is not that he's a maniacally detailed biographer — he is, but that's not his gift. No, what's really a treasure here is the way Haynes can fully accept and celebrate the mythology surrounding a public figure, whether it's self-made or not, while still teasing out the points of connection between that mythology and "real life". Not only that, he takes considerable risks as a filmmaker in order to depict those nexus points in meaningful and interesting ways, coming right out the gate with the simple but devastating decision to shoot Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story with Barbie dolls. Velvet Goldmine is a very good film, but because David Bowie refused to let his music or name be used for it, we miss out on seeing Haynes' talents at full blast.

But Dylan said yes, and Haynes was able to take his incredible creative instincts and run them as far as they would go. There's a lot to explore; this was probably my 4th or 5th viewing and there are continually things to tease out, little details that went unnoticed, mental notes made about some clever way Todd Haynes has played with narrative, identity, genre, and the whole notion of the "musical biopic". In addition to the six actors playing some of Dylan's major personas, a whole host of musicians shows up to accentuate different aspects of his ever-shifting discography. That was one thing that stood out more this time around: the way Dylan's actual voice never comes out of the mouth of the actors playing him, the way certain artists were cleverly associated with different actor-personas. Just in and of itself, it's pretty electric to see Bob Dylan's songs in Stephen Malkmus' voice coming out of Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan. And then you notice how appropriate it is, perhaps, that Marcus Carl Franklin's persona of the "fake", the young black folk singer riding boxcars and lionizing the culture of the Great Depression, is the only actor of the six to actually sing the Dylan material himself. It suggests that, despite the wholesale adoption of a Woody Guthrie-esque persona, this early stage of Dylan's musical ambitions was perhaps less guarded, more vulnerable and introspective.

And this is a great thing that Todd Haynes is able to do by peeking under the hood of the joyful mythology that's exploding from every surface and tangled-up narrative: instead of the trite "voice of a generation" narrative that mass media traditionally assigns to Dylan, he is able to present us with a high fantasy that might be closer to the truth, or rather a truth. This Dylan is a mass of lies, myth, personas and affectations, of insecurity and self-consciousness, exploding "scenes" from the inside out by inhabiting them fully and then discarding them like useless husks, a gifted storyteller or at least a gifted thief of stories with a lust for repurposing those tales for his own ends. We also see the Dylan who's a liar, a misogynist brute, a drug abuser, a recluse. Haynes serves this person up in an exhilarating kaleidoscope of myth and music that has so many moving parts with so many connections between them, from the obvious to the subatomic, that it's hard not to think of it as one of the great feats of narrative art so far this century.

And Cate Blanchett. Good god, Cate Blanchett.

Dara K. liked this review