You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. You've got a lot of nerve to allow a production designer -- alright, a filmmaker -- carte blanche to explore the meaning and mystique of one of the key artists of the last century. You've got a lot of nerve to wank around with two and a quarter hours of my time and tell me nothing I don't know. Hush a minute, I'm singing "Talking Todd Haynes Blues."
I got my Dylan; you got yours. Ain't no self-consciously arty movie by some New York movie man, be it Scorsese or Haynes, gonna change that. Can't change that. Can't change what you see and think when you hear "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" or "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" coming out of the speakers. I got my Dylan.
Some 25-year-old ain't got no Dylan 't'all. He go see this here I'm Not There movie and he still got no Dylan. Oh, he got a lover, an adulterer, a glib misogynist, an opportunist, a put-down artist, a toreador, a song thief. But he got no Dylan. He got Christian Bale. Got Heath Ledger. Cate Blanchett, adding to her amusing collection of 20th century impersonations. (Watch your back, Rich Little.) Richard Gere, winningly evincing enlightenment with a two-day beard.
It seems clear from his resume (Velvet Goldmine,Far From Heaven) that this fella Haynes likes to play dress-up. He likes prancing around London with Blanchett reliving the lost swinging '60s, tossing in gratuitous Richard Lester and Julie Christie references. It proves just one thing: If you weren't there, you can't go there. My advice? Dont Look Back.
The movie has its pleasures, most of which are aural. Its best sequence -- the strongest blend of music and imagery -- comes when Haynes plunges headlong into the Olde American Gothic so beautifully rendered in their day by The Band. In a scene that could have come from Heaven's Gate, the people of a roughhewn 1870s community face off in the town square against bullies hired by the moneymen. The eerie, delicious mystery conjured by Dylan and The Band in The Basement Tapes provides the raw material for the soundtrack. It's the most coherent, and by far the most eloquent passage in the movie.
Gere channels Randolph Scott instead of Alan Ladd, standing straight as a man of character. It's as if Haynes -- inspired, for once -- took the 1960s Dylan labeled the voice and conscience of a generation and dropped him into a wholly different era. And then the scene ends, and the wankery continues.
I'm Not There is worth seeing, nonetheless, for its maker has bravely provided an abject lesson in the limitations of talent. Haynes has imagination to burn, but lacks the all-important kernel of genius. Genius, a fella needs to be reminded, is Dylan's secret weapon. Absent genius, Haynes creates off-the-wall visuals that, like second-rate conceptual art, are inventive but curiously lack impact. Take the eye-catching shot of Blanchett-as-Dylan, bobbing above the trees like a kite with a rope tied 'round his foot. Neat image, but it has more punch in the trailer than it does in the movie.
People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act. Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts. Yeah, I got my Dylan.
I'm Not There opens Wed., Nov. 21.