Video Reviews
I'm Not There
by Todd Haynes
Killer Films (2007)
7 / 10
I'm Not There was a hoot. I wasn't a Bob Dylan fan in any way until about 3 months ago, when I decided he was cool after giving Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited a listen. This dude was a laugh riot--for all this time I associated him with mealy-mouthed so-and-so's I'd meet at Columbia University who wanted to be sure everyone realized how sensitive they were. But when I finally listened to these two records--the first two "Electric Dylan" records--I realized what a persnickety guy Dylan was, with a bang-up sense of humor to match his profound analytical skills. It became clear to me this dude had no problem with being an asshole when needed. . . but there's nothing wrong with that!

So I saw Don't Look Back and I read Chronicles, his first and fine stab at an autobiography, and double decided Bob Dylan is smart. Ok, got it. So Todd Haynes makes a movie about him with all these different people acting as a non-Dylan Bob Dylan, very collegiate and fragmented and post-modern and Todd Haynes-ish. Years ago, I saw Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, his short biopic of Karen Carpenter acted out by Barbie Dolls, and got irritable with it because it reminded me of all those anorexic girls in private school, and something about it felt just too literal. Like, "Wow, it would be fun to see an anorexic-girl movie acted out by Mr. Potato Head or eskimos or something." If you're going to push the envelope, I like it to be pushed all the way off the table. But that's subjective, and neither here nor there anyway. I also saw Velvet Goldmine and got irritable over that because it felt too literal as well--a retelling of the David Bowie/Iggy Pop glam story, but with the same old seven-and-six moralizing about the rockstar lifestyle and sad girlfriends and wives. I've heard that one before.

I even saw Haynes do an interview with Brian Eno at the Museum of Modern Art in New York a few years ago, and despite all Eno's genius-dust rubbing off all over the auditorium, Haynes still came across to me as just an absorber and regurgitator. I couldn't help it. I know it was Eno's day, but Haynes just sort of smiled beatifically and said a bunch of stuff a million academic had said a thousand times before. Unlike Quentin Tarantino though, another absorber, Haynes just didn't seem to process and digest what he had absorbed. So, even though I was pumped to see a Bob Dylan movie acted by a whole bunch of different people, I was a little wary of Haynes and his culture barfing styles.

The movie sticks to its premise of loosely portraying different sides of Dylan, and telling a story that is and isn't about him through vignettes. Cate Blanchett takes home the prize as the mid-60s Electric Dylan who does drugs and acts weird until you realize he's a 24 year old boy on drugs, nailing that cocktail of world-weariness and enthusiasm so well encapsulated in Don't Look Back. She's having fun. I had fun with her parts. Heath Ledger's parts, on the other hand, were a bit of a drag--and I could make a double entendre with that statement, because he cavalierly shows his wang in one disjointed little scene like it ain't no thing. But I can't really give him props for that--it's not like when Viggo Mortensen is double-dog naked in Eastern Promises, and you get many views of his NORMAL sized penis. It takes balls to show a normal sized or smaller penis in a box-office movie, whereas when you have a pretty comfortably large flaccid dick like Heath Ledger, it just feels like a day at the office.

I was bored with Haynes' Ledger-Dylan for pretty much the same reasons I tired of Velvet Goldmine, just same old gender-role wifey-gets-screwed-by-rockstar-husband-who-likes-sex-with-others bullshit. I imagine to somebody it's very important to know Dylan caroused with other women and had all these half-baked sexist things to say, and it's good to emphasize his negatives as well as his positives for a fair portrayal I guess. . . but honestly. . . bored bored bored Ann. And cold, in the cold, cold movie theater. Good thing Haynes brought in the totally bizarre and inexplicable Richard Gere-Dylan, as "Billy the Kid", with a runaway girl-dog in a apocalyptic town in what seems to be a wild-west America, inhabited by kids in costumes--like a clean "Mortville" from that fine John Waters film, Desperate Living. Triple weird and pretty. Richard Gere had Iggy Pop hair and looked old.

I liked Christian Bale's Dylan, mostly because I like Christian Bale, another actor who seemed to have a bunch of fun making this movie. He's a good-time-guy even more than Blanchett's a good-time-girl when it comes to making these movies. As for the other Dylans, Marcus Carl Franklin works nicely as the token black child Dylan (!? I kid) in what I choose to be a smooth nod toward The Jerk. The other Dylan, Ben Whishaw, is very good at being hot and acting all irritable-poetic like his non-character, "Arthur Rimbaud". I almost wish he was dressed up like Jim Morrison, another modern Rimbaud. Oh yes, and I like Charlotte Gainsbourg a lot, especially her crazy Number-Munchers monster face. She was very good at being married to a Dude, though I left the movie feeling like the audience felt more pain about her dumb marriage to bonerific Ledger-Dylan than her character did.

Time for Blanchett to play James Brown.
Posted by: Ann Everton

Video Reviews (November 28th, 2007)