Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm Not There

I knew it was a bad omen when, on buying the tickets to I'm Not There, we were given this little pamphlet for the movie, where it sort of explained what we were about to see. Weird, to get Cliff's Notes for a movie that's supposed to be a video version of Cliff's Notes to Bob Dylan's songs, which (if you believe the hype) are supposed to be Cliff's Notes to Bob Dylan himself.


Yeah, exactly.

If you're one of those geeks that has every single Bob album, has seen every documentary on him and read every book about him, you might get some fleeting sense of satisfaction during the 800 hours this movie seems to last. Maybe.

If, like me, you're a fan that has the pivotal albums and some minor works, and is somewhat familiar with his legend, then this'll happen… You'll spend one minute of this movie smirking slightly at the stuff you do get (ha ha, the chick feels she can't breathe, you're an idiot babe, it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe… oh, and ha ha, there's a tarantula walking around the screen, that's the title of his book, Tarantula, etc, etc.). The other 799 hours and 59 minutes you'll spend guessing you might have had some fleeting sense of satisfaction if you'd been one of those geeks that has every single Bob album, has seen every doc on him and read every book about him. Maybe.

If you're new to Bob, then you'll probably never want to hear of Bob Dylan again.


In a nutshell, this movie is a bad never-ending version of The Beatles' Free As A Bird video.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Free As A Bird video, with its clever use of reference. I got a lot of it, and what I didn't get didn't matter anyway, because the visuals and the song were great. And I LOVE Bob Dylan. The man is THE modern day poet, right up there with all the historical greats. He's fun, too. For all the heaviness in his writing, the man comes across as a mystery, someone who's never quite there.

But if you're gonna go out of your way to make a movie about Bob Dylan, shouldn't he be there?

Actually, the idea behind this mess was actually pretty fresh and interesting. I mean, I absolutely hate movie versions of bios. Stuff like Ray and Walk the Line should have been on Lifetime, right? So with Dylan, who is such a legendary contradiction, it made total sense to not go the traditional Behind the Music route, and break his character down into his different personas. And I loved the addition of his fake roots, the Woody Guthrie character that the folkie Bob invented for himself when people asked him about his past.

But this mess never made it past its interesting concept.

First of all, it's unbearably glib. Somewhere between masturbating to Dylan memorabilia, Todd Haynes forgot this was supposed to be a movie, not some sort of Jeopardy- The Bob Dylan Edition. Somewhere in the not so distant future I see Mr. Haynes pausing this DVD every 2 seconds as he waits for his friends to answer, in question format, how the images correspond to some obscure liner note. He's no doubt practicing his best Alex Trebek impression as I write. Ugh.

There was nothing exactly wrong with the actors playing the parts or anything. They all (with the exception of Richard Gere, who was so pointless I chose his screen time to go to the bathroom) were OK, especially Ben Whishaw and Cate Blanchett, who at least got to say some of Bob's legendary good lines. But really, they were all caricatures, at best. At worst, they were BORING. There was nothing for them to do but be little puzzle pieces to a big picture that never came together.

What's weird was that of all the little parts, it was the story line between Heath Ledger and that actress that played Jane Eyre that was at all interesting. Could it be because that was the only part that was actually fiction? Although supposedly the Blood on the Tracks album was all about Bob's bitterness concerning his divorce, Bob himself has never confirmed this. In his typical fashion, he has always both denied and agreed with this theory. So here Haynes actually had to speculate and write a damned script. Too bad he didn't think to do the same for the rest of this mess.

But anyways. Because I spent 24 bucks and what seemed like 800 hours of my life, I feel the need to salvage some of this waste. So I will say that I liked the part where Cate's version of Bob shoots into the folkie crowd with a machine gun (oh… if only!). I thought Julianne Moore did a spot-on impersonation of that glib bitch Joan Baez. I liked the colors Todd used to film Christian Bale's version playing to the Christian crowd at the Christian center (it has the look of an old VHS video... ever notice how old video turns every color into cafeteria food shades?) And I liked it when Lyndon Johnson said "the sun is not yellow, it's chicken!" Oh, yeah, and I thought Cate Blanchett playing Bob was pretty hot (but that has nothing to do with the merits of this movie as much as with my little perversions, like the way Tim Curry only turns me on when he's wearing fishnets and a leather jacket… but anyway, I digress).

Bottom line, this movie SUCKS.

Please don't watch it. If you love Bob, listen to his music and watch his docs. He managed to make a fictional legend of himself without any help from this crap.


Daniel said...

I agree. The music wasn't even that good. The stuff in here that's actually performed by Bob Dylan is of course great. But the covers done on the soundtrack were nothing that special. Richie Havens doing "Tombstone Blues" was pretty good, but the rest was pretty mediocre stuff.

nancy said...

I'm happy to know I'm not alone in my reaction to this film. I just watched it and between naps, I wasn't really able to connect the dots. So, I googled '"cliff notes" film I'm not there' and that brought me here. I still don't know where I am but I do know that "I'm Not There".

javaness said...

Thanks for your comment, Nancy! I think the way you watched it was the best way to enjoy this movie: as a comfortable drone to take a nap to!