catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 5 :: 2008.03.07 — 2008.03.21


We’re not here

My mind begins to wander to all sorts of places when I hear the word “art.” There are so many styles, so many media of expression. This makes it difficult for some to appreciate all the nooks and crannies of the world of art.

When I lived in Philadelphia, we often frequented the Museum of Art made so famous by Stallone and his innovative Best Picture winner from 1976, Rocky. Personally, I’m a sucker for photography, so that was often where I’d go first. I’d eventually make my way to the modern art exhibits. I’d walk through Impressionism and Cubism and make my way to the abstract work of Jackson Pollock and the pop-art of Andy Warhol. I couldn’t help but overhear the vast tones of this world of art, the tones that you hear people utter as they peer at the many walls of priceless works.

The next time you’re in a museum, take a listen to those around you. You’ll be amazed at some of the elitist banter as well as some of the oblivious banter. I often hear some utter, “This isn’t art” (typically with Pollock as everyone thinks they can just ‘splatter’) and others gleefully moan in admiration, both at the same work of art. So what makes an expression art to one and not so much to another? Certainly one’s exposure to certain forms of art plays a part. And when you add other media to the mix, like movies, music, theatre and literature, it becomes all the more complicated.

Thus, I consider myself a student of art. I’m partial to films primarily and I love photography. There’s something about capturing a moment in time, freezing it for all to see and reflect or reminisce. You can take a period, a place, or a person and express your thoughts and feelings in so many different ways. How many ways has love, both its loss and its birth, been expressed in music, movies, or literature? How about war as a subject? The possibilities are seemingly endless.

One of many responses to the endless possibilities of artistic expression, Todd Haynes’ new film, I’m Not There, presents us with a peculiar biopic of arguably one of the most influential lyricists in rock history, but not in a conventional way. He offers us an artistic expression of an artist. What Haynes gives us is a refreshing alternative other recent biopic films like Walk the Line or Ray by exploring of the life and music of Bob Dylan through six different characters (or maybe seven—depending on your interpretation), each exuding some element of the great storyteller. Though it may exhibit a sense of documentary, it’s not. It’s more inspired by the many lives and the music of the man.

The characters are an amalgamation of both his persona and his influences. Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) is a young vagabond—clearly a Woody Guthrie homage—who hops trains and totes a guitar. Jack (Christian Bale) we get two doses of, one as a New York folk singer and the latter as a born-again Christian, Pastor Jack. Robbie (Heath Ledger) is an actor in a Hollywood film who woos French painter Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Billy (Richard Gere) represents the exilic Dylan. Then there’s Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), the most impressive of the characters, whose curly locks and shades conjure up the hazy, drugged electric Dylan.

Along the way, characters both complement and challenge Dylan, from British journalist Keenan (Bruce Greenwood) to Alice Fabian (Julianne Moore reminiscent of Joan Baez), Allen Ginsberg (David Cross) and Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw). It’s often the challenging moments that make us who we are and these are important components of the film, not just plot fillers.

Haynes, who co-wrote the film with Oren Moverman, comes at an elusive subject with great intelligence. Whether you’ve been influenced by D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back or its more recent counterpart, Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, in the end you’re left with the music of a mercurial individual who tends to defy definability. Kris Kristofferson, with his raspy and aged voice narrates our tale and Ed Lachman offers a splendid eye to the film’s look. This biographical collage of kaleidoscope Dylan’s will ultimately take you to all kinds of places.

To savor this tall-tale multi-layered cinematic riff, you need to let the story come to you, even when a surrealistic gunning of Newport folkies emerges, and don’t trouble yourself too much with the connections lest you get behind, lost or frustrated. Depending on your Dylanology, you’ll either be inspired or confused. Regardless, I’m Not There will certainly arouse the nostalgia of times since passed as well as create new discourse. The film’s great crux is that it allows us not just the opportunity to enjoy his music, which there’s plenty of, but to, in a mirror of sorts, catch a glimpse of the cultural perceptions which construct our Dylan and compare the two. The answers we often seek don’t always find us, at least not the way we’d expect. Or as Dylan so eloquently stated it, “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind…”  

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