Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'm not there

About a quarter of the way through I'm Not There, I'm thinking about how wasteful and horrifying commercial film can be, especially film of the art-house variety like this where every accessory is so precise the period detail immaculate the architecture under and overwhelming the lighting expansive the Hollywood hairdos on stars playing stars playing stars and I'm sure if you look up at the sky there's something there too. But you don't look up at the sky, you look out at the screen.

To be sure, there are hairdos in the audience too, and Todd Haynes is always obsessed with the period it's just that in his early movies affect didn't get in the way of effect, or not as much anyway although I hated the noir part of Poison. But the rest was too stunning to breathe, and we already know that Safe blew my mind into my mind. Velvet Goldmine was just a music video to me, I mean I liked the makeup but that was about all -- and Far from Heaven just felt like a more comfortable remake of Safe, with black people added as props and some weird directorial internalized homophobia.

So a third of the way through I'm Not There, I'm thinking of writing some manifesto about the end of film how horrible and wasteful and pointless and gorgeous, sure, but why? And I'm sure someone has already written that manifesto, over and over, and I just have to find it and write it again. But then we get to the town of Riddle, Missouri, a town we've already been told is just a myth and sure enough it looks like a myth it's where it's Halloween all the time and everyone's on stage. This is the end of Riddle, the children and adults gathered in costumes falling apart on a dirt road in front of setpiece Western buildings, they're fleeing. The end of Riddle means the end of the dream the end of immaculate period detail because it's all blending together between circus and rubber masks from the drugstore and pioneer days and the end of the line the end of.

Then the camera takes us to a pagoda, maybe it's not a pagoda it's whatever a pagoda would be in Western style. And there's a white guy in white face who starts to sing as everyone gathers around, oh. It's that splendid moment when everything and nothing comes together like that place in a performance that gives you everything and then nothing else matters you're there. Did I mention this movie is about Bob Dylan? I don't know or care anything about Bob Dylan, although the part when he’s a star spouting nonsense that occasionally sounds interesting but rarely profound past folk into a white room where everyone’s the gallery they want to be the art they’re just dead living. That part is brilliant and sad and it's all gorgeous -- every single show, every single scene -- and the way the imagery from the Vietnam War intrudes but also it's just wallpaper, silly Hollywood romances and spats are given more attention I'm thinking about whether art that cost millions of dollars to make is always doomed to talk about stars or talk with stars, but luckily the ease of the multiple narratives is breaking up into something more explosive, a tarantula crawling over white into war over collapse but the end feels too tidy, back to the beginning, the hobo lifestyle the flowers in fields. It's character number five who plays Bob Dylan but doesn't play Bob Dylan, replacing character number one who was an 11-year-old black kid acting like an old hobo, and now we have Richard Gere as the old hobo trying to be a hero but ending up a hobo once again.

Too simple, I want the brokenness back but at least I have that Riddle I kind of want to watch the movie again just to get back to the place where the layering of images opens my eyes to the sudden potential of emotion I guess that's the possibility.


Constintina said...

That's the first critique I've read that makes any sense to me. I loved the movie--it gave me stuff to talk about and toss around in my head for days afterward. I also grew up listening to Bob Dylan and as an adult continued to be a (somewhat conflicted) fan so it would follow that this movie would have to be pretty fucking terrible for me to not love it. Still, I feel what you're saying.

spottedowl said...

I thought I had written a manifesto on the end of film by writing Beauty Talk & Monsters! :)

Anyway, it's ongoing, isn't it? I'm writing a new one--a new manifesto that is--this time it's more on the essay side, but still mixes everything up & together, cause everything is mixed even though everyone is still pretending that it isn't. I still haven't seen I'm Not There. Haven't got the funds at the moment to see things outside my own room.

Stay warm & cozy!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Constintina, I'm so glad you appreciate the critique and appreciate the movie--I think that's the best way, sometimes...

Masha, that must be why I liked Beauty Talk & Monsters so much! Of course, I also can't wait to see the new manifesto, and this will now be my reminder to call you this evening--expect me around midnight, as they say.



That scene at the 'bandstand' is one of the most poignant I've sense in a while. Happy that you seemed to have warmed up to the film.

In that vain, I thought I'd introduce you to my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which I think you'd enjoy.

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 or go "behind the tracks" at to learn more about the book.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Aha, the bandstand -- that's what it was... thanks for letting me know about your novel, I am curious about Bob Dorian...

Love --