You know when you're watching television or a movie -- you see pretty pictures, you hear the opening chords of a great song and for a moment you're like wow this Iggy Pop song is on tv. Then you realize it's a commercial for a gigantic insurance corporation or some other such exploitation. That's how I felt in the opening acts of I'm Not There. I'm not accusing Haynes of commercializing Dylan. I'm sure he wants the film to make money, but it's not busting any blocks so far due in large part to Haynes making the film he wanted to make, which I admire greatly. Okay so he's not selling anything, but it still feels a if it's capitalizing on Dylan's music. That Haynes is exploiting the allure of Dylan the man and the power of his music to exercise his own intellect.
Which results in some fine filmmaking to be sure. He thoroughly breaks the mold on bio-pic conventions. Nearly masterfully from a technical standpoint. The film looks great as it transitions from one palette to the next and back again. Haynes heavily quotes two of my favorite films, 8 1/2 and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Haynes is an ardent recreator of classic films. Far From Heaven was a replica of the look and tone of Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas. Like Tarantino, his re-imaginations are imprinted from the outside, lacking a real pulse of their own. This is especially true with regard to Fellini. Fellini made films from his heart, Haynes makes them from his head. In 8 1/2, the passionate dreaminess of the externalization of Guido's inner life is sublime. It's absorbing. The beautiful surfaces leading inward much like the beauty of a cathedral leads the faithful into both the building and themselves. This does not happen in I'm Not There. Which is part of the point, I realize, but for me it's also a major impediment to giving myself to the film.
As far as the acting goes, Cate Blanchett as Jude-Dylan performs many moments splendidly, but overall there's a disconnectedness to her characterization that is more of a distraction than a revelation that Dylan is not there. That's really it, I think. Haynes says, "Hey, Dylan isn't Dylan. He's not there in the way we project." Which makes him a passive character. Passive characters can be quite problematic if you want the story to move forward. I'm not sure six characters standing in for one passive uber-character makes it any easier. Christian Bale plays Jack-Dylan well. As does Heath Ledger perform Robbie-Dylan. The young kid playing Woody-Dylan is uneven, but hey he's a kid. I liked Ben Whishaw as Rimbaud-Dylan the best. Richard Gere as Billy the Kid-Dylan was all wrong. I liked the look and feel of the sequence but Gere is too much the polished pretty leading man to convey the depth of what Haynes is trying to say. Julianne Moore never vexes me more than in collaboration with Haynes. Her part was like Waiting For Guffman but without a sense of humor. As CoCo, Michelle Williams was just blah, she's a pretty good actress usually and she's certainly cute, but she's just not sexy enough to carry off an Edie Sedgwick-type role.
While I'm on some of the little things that bothered me, there are some period prop and wardrobe errors that distracted me. Like the Ray-Ban logo on the Wayfarers that Jude-Dylan wears. That logo didn't appear on Wayfarers until the 90s. The stiff, unseasoned clothing on some of the extras early on took me out of the film as well.
There's no doubt that Haynes is very smart and this film is perhaps his most intelligent. And in spite of my criticisms I don't think this is a bad film or a missed opportunity. It's Haynes's vision and it's fully realized. I just didn't happen to connect to it as much as I liked how it looked and some of its ideas.
Dalla mia testa ed il mio cuore,