Monday, June 16, 2008

"I'm Not There" directed by Todd Haynes (Part 1)

"I'm Not There" , directed by Todd Haynes, is a biographical movie "inspired by the many lives of Bob Dylan" in which Dylan is played by six different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw), each representing one of the "lives" of the legendary folk rock singer. The movie begins presumably after Dylan's 1966 motorcycle accident (for more on Bob Dylan's motorcycle accident see / The Bob Dylan Motorcycle-Crash Mystery ). The next thing we know we are whisked to a Dylan mock funeral. Of course, Dylan obviously didn't die as a result of this accident, but was Todd Haynes suggesting that he died symbolically, or at the very least that this was the culmination of a very tumultuous downward spiral fueled by fame and drugs? I wonder if Haynes decided to tell the story of Bob Dylan in such a creative, yet abstract and esoteric manner, because it enabled him to not only to idealize Bob Dylan as an icon and a genius, but also be critical of things about Bob Dylan without making it seem like the movie was a hatchet job, or at the very least, too harsh. At NewsBlaze Prarie Miller writes, "Setting the record straight from the start, he (Haynes) emphatically tags the seeming countrified high plains drifter with a hillbilly twang, and of famously clouded origins - born Robert Allen Zimmerman and the son of a Jewish Minnesota shopkeeper - as poet, prophet, outlaw and, yes, fake. And the filmmaker's disappointment in Dylan's downward metamorphosis from political idealist to cynic, egotist, wasted stoner, Jesus freak and recluse, is palpable. You only have to check out the movie's prelude, with Dylan's corpse laid out symbolically at the morgue. It's a lament, but for a body that has outlived its art." (

Adolescent African-American actor Marcus Carl Franklin portrays Dylan as a young, uncorrupted, idealistic, soon to be folk hero...and a "fake." It is difficult to know what the director means by calling this representation of Dylan a fake. Is he saying that Dylan the idealist was a fraud...or is he saying that perhaps Dylan himself felt like a fraud, as how could anyone live up to the stature of the iconic legend the media and his fans had created. In one scene, the idealistic Dylan's cover seems to be blown, as a little show he is putting on for some kindly country folks is interrupted by a call from a corrections facility in Minnesota, looking for "Woody." (This particular version of Dylan names himself after Woody Guthrie.) The real Bob Dylan grew up in Minnesota, but was never literally in any institution of corrections. However Dylan did sing of the juvenile corrections facility in Red Wing, Minnesota. (He sang of it, but "never visited": "No younger than 12, no older than 17/ thrown in like bandits and cast off like criminals/ all inside the walls of the grounds of Red Wing" Dylan sings in the folk ballad "Walls of Red Wing." Walls Of Red Wing by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

And there are many of these, what many would consider vague references, throughout the film. "Director Todd Haynes works under the misapprehension that everyone who sees this film will have a detailed knowledge of Dylan, " writes an anonymous film reviewer for the British paper "The Sun." Among these are Dylan's "Lee Harvey Oswald" comment, his many tumultuous relationships with women, the controversy at the Newport Folk Festival that put him at odds with his biggest fans, and his problems with the press and the media. Unfortunately, I did not have a Bob Dylan historian standing by when I watched this movie, so (over my next couple blogs or so) I am going to try to assemble some of these perplexing double entendres, and aloof anecdotes aforementioned here, into some sort of addendum for the Dylan dumb (which would include me). That way, dear reader, you will be able to watch "I'm Not There" and have a completely delightful time, instead of being thoroughly and completely confused. I only hope I have reached you before it is too late!

"I'm Not There" directed by Todd Haynes (Part 2)


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