Sun November 25, 2007
I'm Not There
"I'm not the real Bob Dylan."
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"Everybody knows I'm not a folk singer." So claims Bob Dylan by one of the six interpreters of his persona in Todd Haynes' stylistic, impressionistic I'm not There. This quote clarifies what isn't in this biopic, the real Bob Dylan; the title gives a clue to the imprecise biography but suggests the intriguing format in which disparate actors, from Heath Ledger on one end to Cate Blanchett on the other, play at different times in his life a person never called Bob Dylan.
There's plenty to enjoy, for instance Alan Ginsberg asking a statue of crucified Christ, "Why don't you do your early stuff?" Or Blanchett's spot on imitation of the late-60's rocker with curly hair and epigrammatic responses. Although she gets closest to the Dylan I remember, I figured out that I don't know the troubadour any better now than I did before the film. But, then, why should I?Who really knew Elvis? The universal appeal of these icons like Dylan is that they appeal to something a little different in each generation and maybe each person; with such wide-ranging influence, that they remain inscrutable is a natural concomitant to the impression on each soul.
Because Dylan is a true shape shifter, from protester par excellence to current X-M Radio disc jockey (not in the film0, Haynes has done an inventive turn on a genre that could use his renovation. Yes, I would like to know the inner workings of genius, but these biographies rarely if ever give it to me, so Haynes' wildly interpreting, right up to an outrageous parallel to Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), satisfies my inclination to the impressionistic and lack of historical fact retention. The film is really an abstraction of feeling that militates against knowing the subject at all. But then, who knows anything about Dylan but his style anyway?
"The best part of a writer's biography is not the record of his adventures but the story of his style." Vladimir Nabokov
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com