cinematic innovation

In film class, our current topic is music biopics of which ‘I’m Not There’ (2007) is one of our focus films. I had initially watched this film a few months ago when I bought it in a dvd deal at HMV and came out no more informed or enlightened as to who or what was Bob Dylan. I regarded it under the rather broad term of strange, but beautiful. Now, however, I realise when I watched it for the first time I had gone in blind; without the slightest hint of knowledge as to Dylan’s background or music. The extent to which I called myself an admirer was songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on my i-pod. After having watched Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary ‘Don’t Look Back’ and Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary ‘No Direction Home’ on Dylan it has not only given me a whole new appreciation of the film, but also of Dylan. I could now consider myself an actual fan.
In contrast to the conventional music biopic, Todd Haynes does not presume to know the ‘star’ of the film. The ultimate point here is something that Martin Scorsese may have discovered inadvertently in his thoroughly researched and absorbing, 208 minute account on Bob Dylan’s rise to fame; that the “real” Dylan is essentially unknowable. Most biopics go to great lengths to recreate the character as they were popularly perceived, as though this is the definitive legend that the person left behind and how they will be remembered. Perhaps, Haynes’ advantage lies in the fact that Dylan is still with us. By offering a criticism of this and a refreshingly different deconstruction of the complexities of character and identity, Haynes has set a new kind of precedent.
Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’ takes on six different fictional personas as representations of his character as seen through the public eye; some correspond to a recognisable period and look in Dylan’s life, whereas others are more metaphorical, blending influences, passions, and imagery that extend over his entire career. It is this diversion from convention and sentimality that make this film a far more reverent and admirable tribute than the likes of ‘The Doors’. Haynes skillfully redefines the boundaries of this genre because he doesn’t assume to know or understand Dylan. This film is a creative, visual and rich portrayal of life. Both visceral and enlightenting, comedic and pensive, wild and tender. It challenges both the audience and convention, creating a film that has to be watched over and over to fully grasp all its layers, references and connections. And if this isn’t a more truthful representation of personality and identity then I don’t know what is. If you’re looking for simplicity and a linear narrative, then this isn’t you’re film, but wouldn’t life be boring if you took one look at a person and knew everything about them?
Haynes refrains (rhyme unintended) from patronising his audience. From the delightfully twisted, pained and pitch-perfect performances of a star-studded cast, to the black and white Fellini/Godard textures, the mellow tapestry of colour and the brilliant soundtrack, Haynes succeeds in integrating a multitude of styles. In emulating Dylan, the film itself is structured much like a poem. Haynes strings together fact and fiction, the real and surreal and the self and society into a magnificent fabric that illustrates the identity of one of the greatest American icons. This is a work of art.

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