Wednesday, November 28, 2007

don't look back ... in anger

Went to see the new Todd Haynes Dylan extravaganza, “I’m Not There” last weekend.


And, I am hoping to see it again soon.

It might be up there with “Ray” for me (and that's saying a lot)…an absolutely brilliantly imaginative, dizzying approach that dramatizes the life of an extremely well-known musician (icon, really) who seemed almost untouchable. Haynes succeeds at making someone as enigmatic, reclusive and misanthropic as Bob Dylan accessible, raw and vulnerable (at moments). Simultaneously, he upholds the legendary status and the mythology that Dylan, himself, created. You could say the movie has some layers going on...

I thought it was fucking brilliant and crazy. And it *looked* so damn cool. There’s a few scenes, one in particular, recreating London in the 60s that so perfectly captures the look and the vibe of everything I’ve ever seen documented from that time and place—it felt like a perfectly preserved slice of life. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more attention to detail, or “feel” than this film in that way.

Using the 6 different actors (Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Richard Gere), Haynes was taking a major risk--no doubt. But, the thing is, he's a fucking brilliant director and he knows what he's doing. Although it is *sprawling*--it's never too chaotic or cluttered. The segues between times, places and the characters portraying Dylan are seamless and sublime--the editing is sweet and neat.

I was lucky enough to have a CSCL prof in college who was in love with Todd Haynes and everything he stood for. He made us watch "Poison" and "Safe" in class (he was so gay and so radical and so cool. sigh.) which, of course, caused me to watch "Velvet Goldmine," and "Far from Heaven" and then promptly fall in deeply in love with the flaming, oddball rebel.

Marcus Carl Franklin, an adorable, mature, talented young boy, does a doozy of a job playing a, yes, *version* of Dylan as a young runaway who is enamoured with the Dust Bowl era and calls himself Woody Guthrie (yep, just like Zimmy did as well as Strummer). He does an amazing job of capturing the sly, myth-making, tall-tale-tellin' ways of Early Talkin' Blues Dylan and is part of one of the most amazing scenes of the film. The only bit that brought me to the brink of tears--where the young lad visits a dying Woody Guthrie in NYC. The actor that plays the folk rebel legend looks astonishingly like him and it was a trip to imagine a similar scene taking place when Dylan actually made that pilgrimage to see the dying Guthrie. Another powerful and musically thunderous scene: lil' Woody playing "Tombstone Blues" with a couple of ol' black blues men on a porch. Totally anachronistic. Totally makes sense and had me stompin' my foot.

The beautiful Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a super-earnest version of Dylan in his "Times Are A-Changin'" phase as well as the latter-day born-again Christian Dylan. The only real gem for me was seeing the recreation of that stunning footage of Dylan do a benefit show with the faces of older black men in overalls in a field. The voice we hear is that of one of Minnesota's finest: Mason fucking Jennings. Trippy. Awesome.

The only one that didn’t sit quite right with me was the idea of the film actor character of later-era (Blood On the Tracks-era) Heath Ledger. Although it provided some wrenching moments of insight to the break--up of his marriage and a searing use of "Idiot Wind" to give the complete feel of disintegration of love (perhaps one of the most brutally hateful songs that I could actually admit to enjoying for some sick reason).

Another weak point was the (unobtrusive, thank goodness) ineffectual Whishaw doing “Arthur Rimbould” as a version of (the poet, yeah, kinda) Dylan being interrogated by a “committee” that resembles the questions that the press fired at a young Dylan in the beginning of his career. The bits of his monologues come quickly and serve as a little, messy quote-machine and not much more.

The haggard (but fitting choice) of Richard Gere as Billy the Kid-survived/cowboy Dylan is a strange departure, but still serves as a good tool to play off the kinda of stories of a post-motorcycle crash mythology.

The stunning, the brilliant, the dead-on, (and the actress I most admire right now) Cate Blanchett doing Dylan in 1965 London mode...and it is........Wow. Wow. Wow. I never, for a moment, questioned her portraying him. In fact, her still-present feminine presence is just right. At that time, Dylan was popping speed and was a tiny, slip of a man. The nice, white skin and cool, sexy cheekbones were there, too (Blanchett comes in with those traits--nicely). Her mannerisms are perfect, not overdone. Her attitude is just right, and she brings a sensitive, empathetic actor's (artist's, actually) portrayal to the idea of Bob Dylan we've only seen glimpses of in "Don't Look Back" and "No Direction Home." She nails it. At times, she strips away that surly, sinewy anger and angst and reveals a real kid, someone who is bewildered by fame and examination. It's truly a revelation.

During that era and those scenes I was treated to those bigger-than-life moments that I have been reading about for years. Although I am definitely a fan of the man and his music, I do not consider myself any kind of Dylanoligist. But, I certainly have picked up a lot of tidbits from the magazine gems like Mojo and Uncut, among other various sources that musicheads like me devour. Some of my favorite bits were the visual or dramatic references not only to specific life moments but also the fantastic rendering of song lyrics and images. That was so much fun for me to soak up.

The life bits were amazing to see on the big screen, too. Most notably for me was seeing those two crucial, infamous moments that are the stuff of pop culture legend. When we see Cate-as-Bob take the stage at a "version" of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival we see a quick peak into a perfect metaphoric rendering of what took place: Bob and the boys open fire with real (imagined) machine guns on the unsuspecting folk-fanatics. In the very next moment we see a rendering of the real event, as they rip (LOUD) into "Maggie's Farm" and the disgusted, pained faces of the folkies plugging their ears and booing. We see a Pete Seeger-character wield an ax over his head threatening to cut the cables bringing the "evil" sounds of "mainstream" and "corny" rock music to the kids. Subsequently, they show the London theatre where a kid stood up and shouted "Judas!"
to the stage. Cate-as-Bob sneers, "I don't belieeeeve you." I fucking ate it up!! I love it. To see
this all played out, so imaginatively, both playful and intense, was a thrilling movie-going experience.

Hearing the MUSIC was also what truly got me off. The great covers, by Jennings, John Doe (my boyfriend), the Black Keys, and, at the end, a stunningly beautiful arrangement of Knockin' On Heaven's Door by the great and spooky Antony and the Johnsons
--killer. But, what's most fun, as silly and obvious as it might sound, is to hear the man himself sing his own songs throughout the film. It sounds bigger and better than ever, because it's the first time I've *heard* that shit on the big screen. You know what I mean. It's rad and it hits your whole body. Hard.

Seeing Bob Dylan, the icon, being remembered, honored, criticized and examined in such an artful, obsessive and detailed manor is just about the best kinda smack you can offer a popculturejunkie like me.

1 comment:

Phil said...

I had the chance to see this movie a couple weeks ago at a film fest here, but it was sold out! It kills me that I probably have to wait until next summer to finally see it. Your review does not help

Also, I liked your write-up on the bruce show.