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1.30.2008

LIKE A COMPLETE UNKNOWN

I'm Not There
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman









“Who said I was sincere?”


The quip is your typical Bob Dylan piss-take, typically glib and evasive yet atypically dead-on about his mercurial self-mythologizing, his one-man revolt against an easy peg, his career as a slippery hoax. All his counterfeit personae get inventoried early on. “Poet. Prophet. Outlaw. Fake. Star of Electricity.” But mostly fake. Masked and anonymous, like a complete unknown. Right.

Haynes breaks Dylan down for us into six of his splinter selves, not in the hopes of pinning down the man shifting from one shape to the next but more from knowing he couldn’t. There's Christian Bale multitasking as protest folkie Jack Rollins and born-again visionary Pastor John, Heath Ledger as Robbie Clark weathering a turbulent marriage with his sad eyed lady of the lowlands Charlotte Gainsbourg and Cate Blanchett's puckish hellion Jude Quinn cutting a swath through 60s London. These three are the least obtuse. Marcus Carl Franklin's black preteen Woody riding the rails with a fascist-killing guitar, Ben Whishaw's temperamental Arthur Rimbaud under interrogation in a disembodied no-place and Richard Gere's Billy the Kid hiding away in a gaudy Felliniesque frontier town opiate, they're the purer abstractions.

But we've all met them before. The troubadour and the evangelist. The lout. The rock beast. The vagabond. The dandy.The exile. Conscience, dysfunction, narcissism, innocence, agitation, penitence. Respectively. All of them are Dylan. None of them are Dylan.

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." (Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance)

The Basement Tapes outtake that gives I'm Not There its title was a ballad laden with regret:"Of course I'll not deceive her,I'm not there, I'm gone, it's all about confusion and I cry for her"  But pried loose from the song, it's become proviso, threat, kiss-off. And Haynes is staying true to its implications. It sort of bookends with the presentiment, and later the debris, of Dylan's mysterious motorbike accident as if to insinuate that all this is the life that flashed before his eyes right before he hit that tree and snapped his neck. But to go with that assumption incriminates Dylan as a co-conspirator, semi-passive but somehow in on this, here. And he isn't. If anything, the bookends foreshadow his leaving. Making him, at most, a ghost, reflected and refracted through a kind of metatexted Sixties with aspects of Godard and Fellini and Peckinpah and Richard Lester and D.A.Pennebaker and Huey Newton & Bobby Seale and Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg as prisms. Even if the likeliest place you'll find an artist is inside his art, Dylan isn't entirely there either. His catalog may run gorgeously like connective tissue between dream states here but sung by others. Echoes, mimicry, puppetry, ventriloquism, heresies, reconstruction, deconstruction, metamorphoses. 29 singers. 29 covers. 29 more shards. 29 more decoys.

The degrees of removal make plain that Haynes isn't drilling for biopic lode but also helps enable the possibility of hitting it, not by disambiguating the myths so much as pigging out on them, feeding it hormones 'til some veer into hallucination: Quinn and his band brandishing submachineguns and mowing down the crowd that booed Dylan at Newport for going electric, a cartoon whale chasing Woody after he jumps off a train into a river, circus animals wandering through the 19th century town of Riddle where Billy is known by many names. Being more Dylanhead than Dylanologist (because how much of a Dylanologist can I be having come to Dylan in hindsight, and by way of Street Legal at that?), Dylan to me's never been anything but this parade of camouflages the man hiding in plain sight couldn't possibly measure up to.  The troubadour and the evangelist. The lout. The rock beast. The vagabond. The dandy.The exile. Poet. Prophet. Outlaw. Fake. Star of Electricity. Dylan to me has never been there. And I suspect to many, too.Definitely to Haynes.

Unkempt, frivolous, heady, magnetic and daring with a not imminently crackable, if at all, semiotic density, he performs an autopsy on that absence and finds it sunk in the self-inventive urges of art and moreso, the self-inventive urges of rock and roll. And in exalting these fake Dylans, he exalts that urge, too. Doesn't matter if the one true Dylan remains missing. Haynes has eaten the document. And printed the legend.

14 comments:

chard bolisay said...

wawawi. great bootleg skills do! or you've to the States to see it? haha. gusto ko na mapanuod, sa sine!!!

dodo dayao said...

Nagscreening ata sa Mogwai pero ang gara siguro nito sa sine. Sana may matapang na magpalabas. Hehe.

chard bolisay said...

meron yan! ang huling dalangin na lang natin ay sa ayala. kasi ipapalabas din nila yung across the universe e. sana masabit. hehe.

by the way, i love todd haynes in far from heaven. even liked it way, way better than sirk's all that heaven allows. so i guess i'll be expecting something from him here.

and how's cate?

dodo dayao said...

Oh, Cate is absolutely magnetic here. Half tranvestite, half chameleon. The little black kid's second best of the six. Cate's sections brought back very fond memories for me of seeing Don't Look Back at one of the Cinemanilas,when it was still Greenbelt-bound. Astig. Watch for the Beatles cameo. Priceless. Tangnang pelikula 'to, bigla ko tuloy hinalukay ang mga Dylan CDs ko na malapit nang amagin sa tagal kong hindi pagpapatugtog. Hehe.

I'm a Haynes fan myself,moreso after this. Superstar (which I first saw drunk on Jager on my friends' PC - - - surreal) and Safe are my favorites but Velvet Goldmine and Poison - - -na kinopya to great effect ni Tarsem for REM's amazing Losing My Religion video - - - ain't bad. I liked Far From Heaven but the only Doug Sirk I remember seeing is Magnificent Obsession - - -remember seeing but remember little of the movie. Bata at medyo bobo pa ko sa pelikula noon - - -as if ngayon hindi na. Hahahaha. Should re-watch soon. :)

dodo dayao said...

Napanood mo na yung Across the Universe? OK ba? Some of my friends have seen it. half swear by it, the other half thinks it's crap. Can't say I'm a fan of Taymor but I'm definitely curious.nf

chard bolisay said...

i'm dying to see Superstar. is he really good in doing "pseudo-biographies"? makes me wonder. and since you mentioned Losing My Religion, isn't it that Everybody Hurts is also copied from Wenders' Wings of Desire? thank god their songs are much better than their videos. (waah i miss the great beyond and daysleeper days) i am really tempted to watch the bootleg copy that my friend has, but hell I can wait if it's worth the wait. after all there will be blood is. and i haven't seen Across the Universe yet but I'll make sure I will. taymor is quite tolerable. sadly, it seems like i'll be skipping a lot of lunches and dinners in the next few days. (blame it on jesse james as well)

dodo dayao said...

Haynes seems to have a knack for the rock pseudo-biopic. Certainly makes the best of the sub subgenre. Re: Everybody Hurts and Wings of Desire, there's a very distinct similarity tonally - - -that sense of numbing loneliness. And yeah, visually too. Ridley Scott's son, Jake, did that. Daysleeper is one of my favorite REM videos from one of my favorite,if not THE favorite (sorry, Bill Berry) album Up, not everyone's favorite though. I missed both There Will Be Blood and Darjeeling and I'm a bit of a fanboy of both directors,specially PTA. Lecheng raket. Hehe. But I'll be watching that Jesse James soon, sucker for Westerns and all and that Andrew Dominic's supposedly really good, and this coming from an Australian filmmaker.

chard bolisay said...

Finally be seeing it!! Haha. I always have goosebumps every time I see the trailer and hearing "Like a rolling stone" over and over again. My friend bought this cool hardbound biography of Dylan at Booksale for just 300 pesos. Sobrang ayus na ayus pa ung kopya. Nakita mo sana yung mata ko sa inggit! Hehe. By the way about REM, I think I still can't get over the What's The Frequency, Kenneth phase. No--i got over it but i still kept on coming back. E-bow the letter and Electrolite have great videos too plus the strangeness of Nightswimming and Orange Crush (saw them when I was still into Aegis songs that my mother used to belt. while i'm playing the video, she said, anu ba yang pinapanuod mo, ang pangit pangit. haha). And of course, Man on the moon, lovet. So i reckon we're having an REM collection here. Come on Stipe. Haha. :)

dodo dayao said...

New album in April! Excited. Big REM fan from way back and count me in as a fan of Kenneth, too. The song but the video more than anything. Astig na video. REM make great videos anyway, that's a given. Sila ng Radiohead at Sonic Youth at Talking Heads ,although hindi lang sila but you can count their videos as little films. Speaking of Aegis, may kaibigan ako na hardcore ang taste sa music pero na-convert siya sa Aegis. Haven't gone there yet, though. Hehe. Ngapala, medyo busy lang pagpipinta at kung anu-ano pa pero balikan kita soon about the Apichatpongs. Enjoy sa I'm Not There ,pre!

dodo dayao said...

Yung Dylan bio ba e yung Chronicles? Nag-sale dati sa Fully Booked niyan, yung softbound, 50 off ata. Long time ago. That's how I got mine. Hardcover would've been nicer, though, pero Ok na rin, fiven my economy.

chard bolisay said...

Though I enjoy seeing rock bands live, I hate it when they release their concerts (and live performances) as videos. I don't know--must be the hardcore-fan-type-hype in me. I even have random musings of creating videos for The Clash, if given the chance. Same way with the Smiths (of course i enjoy seeing them perform in Shoplifters but an official video would be frigging cooool) The Cure videos are awesome too, perfectly matching Bob's goth-vampire-creepy air. (who would not love Lullaby?) And of course, Radiohead! Been to the Radiohead Night at Club Dredd four nights ago--and still in awe, not really exceptional groups who performed, but fun.

Don't worry about the Apichatpong's! There are still zillions in line waiting. Haha. Mag-exhibit ka rito sa Alliance pag natapos yung mga pinipinta mo! Hehe.

dodo dayao said...

Concert vids and CDs I could take or leave. Minsan di pa gaano kaganda ang fidelity. There are exceptions but generally I stay away from them. Pero mismo sa Cure. What felt frivolous back when it was new now has genuine charge. The music, too. I'm a born again Cure fan in many ways. I quite liked the crudeness of the stuff Don Letts did for the Clash and Rock the Casbah is just unadulterated coolness - - - Joe Strummer epitomizing rock star more than Robert Plant ever will, I thought. Pero tama ka, minsan ang sarap gawan ng bagong video ng grupong yun at ng Smiths na din. Primal Scream's another band who makes superlative music videos. Syet! Di pa ko nakakapunta sa bagong Dredd. After the opening which is 26 days away. Panic! Hehe. At oba sa exhibit. Magmumudmod ako ng mga imbitasyon via email and text once makabwelo na ko sa trabaho. Ty,chard.

chard bolisay said...

Bonne chance, monsieur!

Dylan: Visions, Portraits and Back Pages pala ung libro ng kaibigan ko. Sobrang astig. At bilang mahilig ako sa lists naaliw ako dun sa Top 100 Dylan songs of all time. Hulaan mo kung anung number 1. Haha, given na. Pero anlayo ng blowin' in the wind, tombstone blues at desolation row, mga paborito ko rin. Hehe.

Napanuod mo na ba yung biopic kay Joe Strummer? Parang olats ata e. Owel, saka na pag nasa huwisyo na ko pagtapos ng thesis. Hehe.

dodo dayao said...

The Future Is Unwritten. Ganda ng title. Meron ako, courtesy of mga suki sa MCS. Hindi ko pa napapanood. though. Malamang pareho dahilan natin - - lecheng trabaho. Julien Temple direktor so medyo may pag-asa. Abril malamang uupuan ko na to. Hehe.