Monday, January 07, 2008

I'm Not There

This has been described as a biopic of Bob Dylan, but it isn't, really; it's more of a series of riffs on the idea of Bob Dylan.

There can't be anyone alive who's been so mythologised as Dylan, to the point where he hardly seems like a real person. For years he's fought against his own legend - I remain convinced that all those notoriously, um, wayward performances and records from the 70s until the 90s represent him trying to destroy Bob the Legend. Then, when he realised that being a shambles only reinforced the myth, he resigned himself to his status, and decided not to worry about it, after which we got the wonderful trilogy of albums of the past few years, the delightful Theme Time Radio Hour, and Chronicles, all of which showcase a Bob apparently more at ease with himself than he's seemed for years.

So what we get in this film isn't any kind of conventional biography. Instead there are 7 different characters, all standing in for various aspects and periods of Dylan's career and persona: a young black kid trying to fake his way through the blues, a young Rimbaud obsessive called, er, Arthur Rimbaud; an earnest young Woody Guthrie-a-like; the iconic super-hip sharp talker of the mid-60s (played by a woman); an actor with a failing marriage; a born-again preacher; and a country hobo who turns out to be more than he seems.

None of these personae presents any accurate depiction of events; this is clearest in the "60s" Bob, where events documented on film are presented in versions that play up to the mythology of what happened. Cate Blanchett's astonishing turn as "Jude Quinn" is the only one of the seven Dylans that is pitched as an impersonation of him; these are intended as archetypes that resonate with one or more perceptions of Dylan and his work. Even Blanchett's performance is more myth than reality, and comes across as the one attempt to "do Bob" more because Dylan's 60's image is one that rock stars ever since have appropriated in an attempt to seem sharp.

If you try and fit the film to the life too closely you'll end up frustrated. I'm reminded to some extent of Burrough's later work such as The Place of Dead Roads, where one character plays out his story in multiple times and dimensions. I suppose in a way one of the major themes of this film is the impossibility of nailing down who Dylan is or what he represents. At the end of the film, as Richard Gere rides off on a train, strumming one of his younger selves' guitar, perhaps a nod to Dylan's recent work, where he's become for real the great bluesman he started of pretending to be, we finally see Dylan himself, in a piece of footage from a live concert. He doesn't sing, he just blows his harmonica and strums his guitar, inscrutable and unreachable, and strangely peaceful. It's a moment that, like a lot of this film, lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Maybe it shows what Dylan himself has always insisted: whatever roles and significances we may try and pin to him, he's really just a song and dance man.

Whether it's a help or a hindrance to know a great deal about Dylan before you watch this film I'm not sure. It'd be interesting to hear the views of someone who knew next to nothing about him

2 comments:

THOMAS GRASTY said...

If you enjoyed I'M NOT THERE (which you clearly did), I think you migth enjoy my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.

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 www.bloodonthetracksnovel.com to learn more about the book.

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