September 25, 2007

Toronto and NYFF preview. I'm Not There.

I'm Not There "[T]he one film at Toronto with a possible claim on masterpiece status is the one that managed to generate the greatest intensity of feeling through the most preposterously complicated means," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. After checking off the list of leads, he continues, "More amazing still is how harmoniously [Todd] Haynes arranges and sustains this semiotic free fall through the Dylan history and myth without losing dramatic momentum or indulging the hagiographic impulse. But the deep wonderment of this strange and wondrous picture is how language so aggressively mediated, so insistently postmodern, and so apparently nostalgic can speak with such eloquence about the world right now. A movie about the struggle to negotiate freedom, creativity, and political integrity in a media-addled culture at a time of war, I'm Not There [site] has everything and nothing to do with Bob Dylan."

Updated through 9/29.

"In some ways, it's the natural companion to Don't Look Back (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted Reynaldo and Clara to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted Velvet Goldmine to be," suggests Jim Emerson. "It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night and Petulia, Godard's Masculin-Feminin, Fellini's and others, too) - and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings - and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie."

"Todd Haynes' new film is, as they would say in semiotics class, a dense text," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Generally, the depth of the film's referentiality is kind of astonishing—more so when you consider the artists covering the Dylan songs on the soundtrack ([Cate] Blanchett opens her mouth, but Steve Malkmus comes out of it).... I really need to see this film again in order to get deeper into it, but I can't help but note that, given the emotional connection that so many feel to Dylan's work, I'm Not There is awfully cerebral."

"I'm Not There may be a brilliant myth-making exercise, a fearsome piece of pop art, a truly fascinating film," proposes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It may also be a hollow jumble of post-modern pick-up-sticks - a chaotic stack of signifiers and images and in-jokes with nothing at the heart. Part of me wants to see it again as soon as possible; crack its codes, follow the arcs, catch anything I missed. I also wanted to not see it ever again - to let it be a dream, a blur, like a few notes of music that find you at an unexpected moment and you hear the rest of your life." And here's an online listening tip: James interviews Haynes.

"I'm still not sure how Haynes pulled it off," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "I only know that I can't wait to see it again. In fact, I'm afraid I'm going to be one of those freaks who see it half a dozen times before it drifts out of the theaters, not necessarily to parse its many allusions and inside jokes (although that's fun) but simply to bask in its crazy, warm glow."

"I'm Not There is brilliant, a visual and aural feast that is so complex in structure that it boggles the mind that he or anyone else could stitch it together," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. "Sure, Haynes was enamored of artifice in Superstar, Poison, Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven, but he amplifies the strategy here. Todd Solondz's Palindromes was unsuccessful in its use of multiple actors for a single character, but Haynes's gamble pays off."

"Even for a Dylan fan like me, there's a lot of 'huh?' to I'm Not There," blogs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But there's just as much 'wow.'"

For his fellow AV Club member, Scott Tobias, "Haynes's movie smartly sidesteps any attempt to explain the Dylan enigma; on the contrary, the film embraces it, collapsing multiple timelines into a 135-minute soup that I found both intriguingly and frustratingly allusive/elusive."

"Styles change from persona to persona, from the Don't Look Back B&W cinema verité look of Quinn's England tour (along with salutes to A Hard Day's Night and Fellini movies) to the steeped Hollywood cinema colors of the actor's life to the mock-doc survey of the early folksinger (with Julianne Moore in the Baez role)," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "As spun by Haynes, they are all different people in the same musical universe rather than steps along a journey. Haynes opens the film on the singer's death and autopsy."

"This was maybe the only movie at the festival where I got that overwhelming, I'm-enveloped-by-this-film feeling... which is not to say I was one hundred percent in love with it," blogs the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "But it was plenty stirring."

"Haynes comes out of the dream-like I'm Not There a resounding winner," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. "The film looks astonishing. If there is anything missing from the idyllic, disjointed re-telling of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan's life, it is emotional truth; but there is enough present to let Haynes' vision slide."

"[E]asily one of the best and most ambitious films of the year, [I'm Not There] fragments the many chapters of the folk-rock troubadour's life and reshuffles the cards to form a fascinating meditation on identity and personal responsibility, transforming the pop prophet's intimidating, cryptic life into a deeply empathetic and surprisingly accessible journey," writes Stephen Garrettt at indieWIRE.

For the London Times, Stephen Dalton gets a comment from Haynes on the 60s: "Vicariously, nostalgically, retrospectively, it doesn't matter. It's worth continual reexamination. We are still unpacking the 1960s. It was great because it was a time that demanded you take a stand on what you thought about things. That meant being aware politically and culturally."

"The movie's terrific, among the best I've seen in Toronto, but it's not for the casual Dylan fan," warns the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

"This exhilarating experiment addresses the question at the root of any biography: Can anything authoritative be said about any person?" writes Time's Richard Corliss. "I'd enjoy sitting through a cut of I'm Not There if it were twice its current length, or half. At 135 mins (about the same as Across the Universe), the film almost dares a viewer to choose favorite parts, and others for pruning. The section in which [Richard] Gere as an older Bob hunts for his lost dog baffled and bored me; the [Marcus Carl] Franklin and [Christian] Bale parts I found quite moving; Blanchett is worth watching through her characters triumphs, disasters and longueurs. Overall, I'm glad I was there."

Online viewing tip. At Boing Boing, David Pescovitz points to a clip from Don't Look Back, the infamous interview Horace Judson conducted with Dylan for Time in 1967 1965.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice.

Update, 9/29: For the Oxford American, Sean Wilentz on the making of Blonde on Blonde. Via Coudal Parters.

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Posted by dwhudson at September 25, 2007 8:16 AM


The Howard Judson interview actually took place in 1965 in England,as captured in D.A.Penebaker's documentary "Don't Look Back."Having broken his neck in a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan withdrew into the NY Mts of Woodstock and made no public appearances in 1967.
Dennis Flaherty

Posted by: Dennis Flaherty at September 26, 2007 11:01 AM

Yikes, of course - thanks!

Posted by: David Hudson at September 26, 2007 11:07 AM