Sunday, November 25, 2007

"I'm Not There"

I can't say I understand it completely. I can't say that it is going to achieve any sort of commercial success. I can't even say that critics love it. Most do, but one of my favorite critics (Anthony Lane of the New Yorker) and one of my least favorite critics (Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle) both disliked it. What I CAN say about "I'm Not There," Todd Haynes's new film "based on the music and many lives of Bob Dylan" is that not once during its two-hour, 15-minute running time did I ever want to look away from the screen. It is the most artful film I have seen in many, many years.

Be warned -- if you are looking for a faithful biography of Bob Dylan, this is not the movie for you. Many reviews I have read seem to feel the film presents different stages of Dylan's life, represented by the six different actors (including the luminous Cate Blanchett) who play Dylan. The truth is, these actors represent different aspects of Dylan's character as much as they represent stages of his life. He is seen in youth as an African-American boy (inhabited by the prodigiously precocious Marcus Carl Franklin) named Woody. (None of the Dylan characters in the film are actually named "Bob Dylan.") I'm not familiar with the details of Dylan's life as a child, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve riding the rails as a pre-adolescent with a guitar whose case read "this machine kills fascists." Yet, these sequences still have a powerful ring of truth. They set-up the young Dylan as someone obsessed with his mission in life, his dreams and his goals, while grounding these aspirations with the sense of otherness Dylan must have felt, both as an artist and as a Jew in mid-century Minnesota.

The film jumps back and forth through time, skimming in and out of dreamy fantasies and hard-edged reality. We see Dylan the rebel, Dylan the dreamer, Dylan the outlaw, Dylan the petulant artist, Dylan the provocateur and Dylan the sage. And still we feel we have only scratched the first level or two of veneer.

Look for "I'm Not There" to score several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing and perhaps even Best Screenplay. It will deserve them all. Every frame is filled with art. It's not a movie for everyone, but "I'm Not There" is easily the most impressive film achievement of the year.

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