Sunday, June 18, 2017

If Dylan were a Timelord: I'm Not There

I've been archiving seven or eight years of journalling from the London and Birmingham years recently and have found a few more film reviews to share.

I'm Not There is Todd Haynes' Dylan fantasia - a novelistic treatment of seven different stages of Bob Dylan's career. 

It's starting point is perhaps that the man himself is ultimately unknowable, a view Volume 1 of his autobiography does nothing to unpick, I fear. So instead, different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) are employed at each stage to symbolise these sharp changes in presentation and artistic direction. 

As if Dylan were a Timelord, if you like (*).

From earnest folkie, through plugged in rocker chasing that wild mercury sound, to Woodstock exile and born-again Christian, I'm Not There veers between realism and magic realism depending on which 'Bob' is on stage. And all seven Dylans are compelling: above all Cate Blanchett as electric Highway '61 Bob and Christian Bale. The playfulness and passionate engagement with the source material runs right through the film, and the music's great too.

It's focus on Dylan as myth rather than as man means it's biggest weakness is inevitably it's lack of emotional heft. The closest it comes is Blanchett portraying an artist on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But for all that it avoids bathos and the over-dramatisation of the conventional biopic. So despite it's slight flaws, it's a brave, engaging film.

* And I suppose Bob and The Doctor occupy similar locations in our modern mythology - outsiders, tricksters, tellers of truth to power. Symbols of self-transformation, what the graphic novelist Grant Morrision would call hypersigils. But that's one for another post.

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