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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

I’m Not There – film review

The bad news first: the film is far too long. It should have been cut from its present running time of 135 minutes to around 90. On the other hand, didn’t Dylan himself once make a film that ran for 5 hours?

The film, by Director Todd Haynes, is a rumination inspired by the various lives of Bob Dylan, supported by a soundtrack from Dylan’s work. There is no real plot apart from that provided by the title. Aspects of Dylan’s life and times are explored through six different fictional characters, none of whom is Dylan.

Ben WhishawThere are some excellent characterizations, not least from Julianne Moore, Heath Ledger (who died on Tuesday), and Marcus Carl Franklin. But Ben Whishaw and Kate Blanchett were the two who mainly held my attention. Oh, yes, and the image of Christian Bale pounding out a piece of rock gospel in some small southern church will stay with me for a long time. It was good, also, to see Richie Havens and to hear that his voice is as strong and mesmerizing as ever, though he’s aged a little since I last saw him at an Isle of Wight festival way back when.

I’m Not There won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress honours for Cate Blanchett at the 64th Venice Film Festival and the Golden Globe Award, in addition to several critics and smaller awards.

Nevertheless, the film is not about Bob Dylan. Ultimately it is about identity, the way that identity shifts, and what Todd Haynes does is use Dylan as a metaphor for this central premise. Dylan has constantly and publicly reinvented himself throughout his life, always ready to move on to another identity level once he becomes visible, so he is the ideal subject for a film like this.

There are some great lines from time to time. One comes after a public argument about feminism between the happy couple, when she leaves the table and stalks off into the night. He follows her, ‘Hey, it was a joke, OK? I adore women, really. Everybody should have one.’

And later, the Cate Blanchett character, high on something, gazing up at a huge marble crucifix, asks: ‘Why don’t you do some of your early stuff?’

I enjoyed it for ninety minutes. It was a good experience. After that I would have come home happy. But the last half hour was punishment. Wiped me out. Felt like I’d been working on Maggie’s Farm.

2 Responses to “I’m Not There – film review”

  1. Tom Grasty says:

    I enjoyed your review. Since you are a fan, I thought I’d introduce you to my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which I think you’d enjoy. Since you seem to be a “counter,” I hope you can slog through 376 pages. I think it will be worth the effort. Here’s the 411…

    It’s a murder-mystery. But not just any rock superstar is knocking on heaven’s door. The murdered rock legend is none other than Bob Dorian, an enigmatic, obtuse, inscrutable, well, you get the picture…

    Suspects? Tons of them. The only problem is they’re all characters in Bob’s songs.

    You can get a copy on Amazon.com or go “behind the tracks” at http://www.bloodonthetracksnovel.com to learn more about the book.

    jb says: Good luck with the book, Tom.

  2. Papa says:

    I think, yep, it was pretty long. But it was also provocative. I tried to make sense of some of it in this piece I wrote about the film; would be interested to know your views:

    http://www.susology.com/2008/01/there-or-not.html

    jb says: Hi Papa, thanks for the link to your piece. I enjoyed reading it. I’m still not sure that the film takes us any closer to the real Dylan, though, or that that was its purpose. My personal view, in spite of your own thesis, is that it would have been a much better film without the Richard Gere, Billy the Kid section.