I'm Not Impressed: Getting angry at "getting" Dylan.

I've spent the last week or so digesting the Film I'm Not There, a self-proclaimed biopic of Bob Dylan. I've approached from several standpoints. A 'meta' reading, wherein this film is as much a commentary on the ability to capture a life as it is about Dylan. A view through director Todd Haynes' ideal of the refractionary reflection on a life. I've even brushed up on my Dylan, thinking that maybe I just didn't "get it" enough. Perhaps if I listened to a few records and read a Wikipedia page or two, the entirety of this film would open itself to me. A sweet delicious onion. I am inevitably left however, with my immediate feeling upon finishing the film.

This movie is a giant, steaming pile of shit.

I'd like to defend this statement first by saying that I'm not against having several actors play a single role, or even portray several different roles intended, when in combination, to represent a larger whole. American Splendor? Love it. I'm also not against super-meta bullshit. I love super-meta bullshit. Day for Night? Great. Last Action Hero? Yes, please. What I cannot stand, what I will not tolerate, is this guy.
This jerk (Arthur Rimbaud [Ben Wishaw]) is, in one character, the sum of my hatred for this abysmal film school thesis project. This character's only purpose seems to be to answer questions in a manner that is equal parts glib and obtuse. If one thing annoys me [and several things do], it's some prick trying to be as cool as Bob Dylan [or Elvis Costello, or Lou Reed, or insert good musician who has inspired assholery]. Shut this prick up, and cut back to one of the three story lines I didn't mind so much.

The two super-close Dylan characters, Jack Rollins [Christian Bale] and Jude Quinn [Cate Blanchett], and the biopic-self-referencing [because Haynes' can't get enough of that] Robbie Clark [Heath Ledger]. Though I have problems here as well.

Much of Jack and Judes' part in this is pulled from actual Dylan footage. First up, Christian Bale. I really only remember him dropping the N-bomb. Did Dylan drop the N-bomb? Anyway, much of it is shot-for-shot from news footage, etc. Clever. The scene where he plays "Hattie Carol" for a bunch of hillbillies is pretty sweet though. His Pastor John thing is a terrible reach for refractionary biography. Hey, Dylan became super Christian for a while, what if this character becomes super Christian? Brilliant! And the actors name is Christian. Meta-Brilliant!

As for Cate Blanchett, if I wanted to watch Don't Look Back, I damn well would have watched Don't Look Back. Though the send-up to Hard Days' Night was a good bit of fun. Otherwise, watching Blanchett is like watching Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. Sure she can do a great amphetamine-era Dylan, but why? At least they didn't add an unnecessary masturbation sequence.

Heath Ledger, semi-Freewheelin' to messy divorce Dylan. Fine. An actor who plays an actor who played Jack Rollins, a fictional version of a facet of Bob Dylan, played by a different actor. We get it, synthesizing a life for the screen requires synthesis. Move on.

As for the Woody Guthrie [Marcus Carl Franklin] character. If anything comes close to the biopic I expected, it was this guy. Little black kid representing Dylan's early influences, rambling nature, and the social need to "sing about [his] own time." Not terribly amazing, but good enough. Had more things been like this, maybe a little more thought out, I would have thought it adequate. Then they brought in Richard Gere.

What the hell? Why is this happening on the screen? Why is Richard Gere Billy the Kid? Call back to Riddle, MO, fine. Call back to the guitar case, fine. Is that a black guy with an American flag painted on his face? Is that the My Morning Jacket guy with his face painted white? Is that a Giraffe? That's a giraffe. Come on. If I wasn't thinking this collection of Kubrik-tracking-rip-off shots was awful, I'm way over the edge now.
The nail in the coffin for me was Haynes' own view of this film. "The minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he's no longer where he was. He's like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you'll surely get burned." This whole film is an exercise for Todd to show us how much he "gets Dylan." He's every cultural studies student with a leather jacket with a picture of Lou Reed on the back that says "My Week Beats Your Year." I'm spoon fed enough pretentious film crap to say "Enough." I don't care if hardcore Dylan fans love finding all the little obscure tie-ins. It's one artsy prick's attempt to show just how cool he is. Haynes said, "I didn't want to make a movie that was about anything. I wanted to make a movie that is something." Well it is something.

It's a shitty movie.


Jim Ryan said...

Dude, you just don't get dylan, man.

In all seriousness, you're being hard on Mr. Haynes. Reality is, this is the only way a film about Bob Dylan could be made. It probably is a shitty film, but if I had to watch Bob Dylan as the third incarnation of Ray as portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall or some shit, I would cry my eyes out until I had no tears left to cry. Dylan doesn't deserve that, he deserves some vain, misguided art school project that I'm more or less happy to watch anyway because Dylan=God.

Daves n' Davin' said...

Newman - you missed the meta-meta-message of the film: self-proclamations about one's superior ability to "get dylan" is what "getting dylan" is all about (which of course, in reality is impossible of "get")! I'll grant you your vitriolic critique of the filmmaker and perhaps the larger message of the film. I still think it's the best film anyone has made about Bob Dylan. But, like all things Dylan, it's better not to analyze it the degree you did here. When you get up close to Dylan you find that, just like Todd Haynes, he's an asshole.

If your Dylan-mood hasn't been completely crushed, check out the book "Chronicles: vol.1"

Matthew said...

Thank you, thank you and thank you. I watched the movie a while back because of all the rave reviews and am a HUGE Dylan fan but couldn't help coming out of the cinema stratching my head thinking I had just been ripped off and (as you mentioned) that was one of the biggest pieces of pretentious crap I have ever seen. Dylan himself is great. This is just pure shit. If someone wants to analyze all of the sides of Dylan - fine! Put in a book an essay an article but don't try and make a movie out of all this disparate, arty-farty, all somehow-kind-of-linked rubbish! Thank you for breaking out through all the pretentions amazon.com pricks who dared say that the like this movie. I am a huge Dylan fine but this needs to be put in it's place as crap and buried and forgotten!

Quilliam said...

I was searching around in my brain for the most irreverent comment about dylan that I could muster, but instead, I'll just say -- "Thanks for pushing back the reaper a bit. Love, E.M."

Edgar Keats said...

Todd Haynes isn't yellow, hes chicken

Coaltrain said...

Who's Dylan?

Newman said...

Why should my enjoyment of this movie be in any way tied to liking or not liking Bob Dylan? (note: I deleted a section of this post about my own pedestrian Dylan fandom)
Can anyone make a case for this movie that doesn't involve discussing how it's the best we've got? Have you really invested so much time into being a fan that you could watch anything claiming to be a movie about Bob Dylan and say it was great? Wouldn't you actually be more critical of this? Tell you what, I'll make a two and a half hour movie of me masturbating in a room full of various pictures of myself and talk about how it's really about how much I get Bob Dylan. Hey, it's the best we've got.

K. Murphy said...

What bothered me most about this movie, is that if Haynes thought it so damn important to have a bunch of people play Dylan - why did it matter that they mirror Dylan's mannerisms? Quinn doesn't share a name, yet we're supposed to be impressed because she has her Dylan-isms down pat? Weak.

Charlieford said...

Perhaps this will help?


michael said...

I really liked this movie ...I've seen it twice and was really absorbed both times ...maybe I'm pretentious and wierd but I thought the approach was novel and ,dare I say it put most of the standard bio's to shame...it certainly had me thinking


Wow, who knew that an expletive-laden rant about a 2-year old film would singlehandedly revive this blog? Job well done, Mr. Newman.

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