Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dylan Mythology Dissected Magnificently

"It has chaos, clocks, watermelons...you know what I'm sayin'...it's everything." - Jude (CATE BLANCHETT) I'M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) It's funny that the upcoming WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (the Judd Apatow written and produced comic mock epic with John C. Reilly as the lead) proposes to set fire to the tried and true clich├ęs of modern music bio-pics because after the exciting experimental experience that is I'M NOT THERE those worn methods are already ashes. As most reading this know well by now Bob Dylan is portrayed by 6 different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) who embody the man in different distinct eras and incarnations. Each has a different name, a different attitude, and of course, a different aesthetic. It may seem weird or even a bit pretentious in concept to cast a young black kid as a box-car hopping tall-tale telling pre-fame Dylan or an Australian Academy Award winning woman to play his Bobness at the height of his amphetamine-fueled rock star glory but the way it's played out here is mindboggling in its magnificence. The finger-pointing protesting period provides the always up to the task Christian Bale with the Bob with most conscience through separate eras one - political and one intensely religious. Gere's Billy The Kid hiding from society persona seems to be the Dylan who is the most free - or at least pretending to be. Seemingly drawn from a tapestry woven from words spoken in every Dylan interview, every song in Dylan's catalogue being official or bootleg, and every single photograph or footage of the real man, some of the most affecting moments are the quietest. When Gere's Billy-variation-on-Bob surveys the vast unpopulated wilderness beneath him from a high mountain trail a notion of what Greil Marcus called the "Invisible Republic" can be sensed. That however is the musing of a Dylanologist like myself - someone who can't quote Bob chapter and verse may find that and other sequences slow and hard to decipher. Man, I pity those people. Cate Blanchet as Jude has the most amusing and electric (yep, I went there) material and her presence in the black and white as-if-filmed-by-Fellini mid-60's montages never falters. As many have remarked she may look and act the most like Dylan - at that particular time that is. She has obviously studied DON'T LOOK BACK so she has every mannerism perfected -right down to the handling of a cigarette and the frantic on-stage flailing of arms. Blanchett's Jude is the most hostile and cornered of all the Dylans. If you've seen NO DIRECTION HOME or have at least heard the leering lyrical equivalent to acid being thrown into a former lover's face ditty "Positively 4th Street" - you may have an inkling why.Ben Whishaw as Arthur is the Bob with the least impact and screen-time. He simply recites carefully chosen media-taunting cryptic one liners from the public record. While the quotes are good - he's my vote for the weakest link here. Ledger's section (or sections as the structure gets broken up quite frequently) in which he plays an actor playing Bob (or actually Jack - Christian Bale's character) has a lot of merit with its discomforting domestic bliss breakdown and break-up intertwined with a Vietnam war time-frame but it's not as well visualized and vital as Blanchett's or even Gere's portions. Marcus Carl Franklin's bits are achingly sweet and for the youngest player here - his assured poise transcends any thought of gimmick casting. Other than the Dylans, the supporting cast is splendid - David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, Julianne Moore wonderfully mimics Joan Baez, and Bruce Greenword beautifully personifies the over-educated but still clueless interviewer / interrogator Mr. Jones from Dylan's classic "Ballad Of A Thin Man". Filled with mostly Bob originals and a number of great sharp covers, the soundtrack * is spectacular but that's far from surprising. What is surprising is how this perverse take on the bio-pic formula works so damn well and how hypnotic its effect is. One shouldn't go see it to make sense of the myths or to put into any concrete cinematic context the life of Bob Dylan (director/writer Todd Haynes knew going in that that's impossible) but if one views it like a piece of modern art - where you have to squint to make certain parts focus and you have to open your eyes wide to see how distorted the details really are - they are certain to get more than just mere glimpses at greatness. * As I suspected the bulk of the covers that make up the 2 disc so-called soundtrack (previously reviewed - Film Babble Blog 11/10/07 I'M NOT THERE Soundtrack Is Where It's At) are not featured in the movie. The amount of original Dylan recordings used could make up a nice alternate/actually accurate soundtrack - hey, now there's an idea for a great CDR comp! More later...

1 comment:

Neil said...

you just HAVE to check out this video about Dylan. It's hilarious!