Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The biopics they are a-changin'

We just got back from seeing "I'm Not There," the new, arty and very unusual biography of Bob Dylan, told through the interweaving stories of six characters who aren't Dylan, exactly, but who all bear some narrative resemblance.

I liked the movie a lot, mostly because I thought the director Todd Haynes did a remarkable job of matching the film's style and ambiguity to its subject. The main point seemed to be that Dylan invented and reinvented himself and repeatedly ran from others' expectations of him. A lot of the picture concerns the 1960s, when the folkies who first embraced Dylan rejected him for going electric, and similarly when his protest-music fans got mad that Dylan wasn't political enough.

At one point in the movie a journalist questions the Dylan character's sincerity and "Jude" answers, "Who ever said I was sincere?"

Six actors play the Dylanesque characters, including an amazing Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Christian Bale (who was also the last Batman and the crazed killer in "American Psycho"), and an 11-year-old black boy. All the performances are terrific.

Dylan, I think, is the greatest artist of my lifetime. One of the things I love about his music -- in addition to its beauty -- is how it defies simple interpretation. Likewise, there's no easy answer to what this movie's about. Even Dylan aficionados can argue about it, and I think that (again, like the music) it will feel different upon multiple viewings.

As I was watching "I'm Not There" I found myself thinking a little bit about "Citizen Kane," another biopic that wasn't really a biopic; its real subject, William Randolph Hearst, was represented as a fictional publisher named John Foster Kane. That movie, like this one, risked doing away with a standard linear, biographical structure for something unexpected and unpredictable and occasionally difficult to follow. The result, in both, is something much more than a movie of the week.

"I'm Not There" won't be for everybody. (After this and "Beowulf" I feel the M&M Facebook "soul mates" rating slipping.) But to me, this movie is a double win: It's art about art. 4 gliomas.


mich said...

Great review! Forget any allegiances to the stupid P-I and come work for me.

Mark said...

Hey man, I'm unemployed. Sign me up.

Thanks Mich. If you ever make it out to the movies, add this one to your list.

Rita said...

Yeah, Mark, a 4 Glioma Review!

Your dauntless critiques always demand attention and pique interest.

kateco said...

You are my favorite columnist. The pride of The Daily Crab.