Last night, I finally saw “I’m Not There”, the dreamscape narrative of Bob Dylan’s music and mutability, with a series of actors performing the role, including a Brilliant find in a child actor who stole every scene and outshone a couple of the grizzled veterans. The movie is worth watching just to see this young man throw down the acting gauntlet and make something amazing happen.
That said, it’s easy to let this film devolve into a discussion of the merits of any individual actor in the role of the artist at the heart of the world’s changing relationship between the authentic, heartfelt convictions and an appropriation of those convictions by consumer culture. The only solution, it seems, is to descend into layers of masks and shields against the world–to stand alone against everyone and everything for the sake of standing alone. Marriages fail. The fame falls to shambles. The famous performer finds his true self on stage of a church, singing about the end of the world, in the crowd of a put-upon Depression-era town standing up for justice, riding the boxcars to Woody Guthrie’s deathbed, and chasing after a wife and family far away from the public image of a superstar struggling to put the public face away to be a good husband and father. (Not to forget Cate Blanchett’s staggering performance as a drugged-out superstar rambling across London spouting poetry as casually as breathing and calling to question the entire system of fame and glory with every step and word.)
It’s a brilliant film, and a joy to watch. The energy of each scene, and the layers of things created with the dissonant forces of symbols and imagery, form a breathtaking non-linear narrative, that rises up above the career of Bob Dylan to tell the story of the Traditional American Music straight from the boxcars to the booing crowds that want either folk music to remain in the past in America, or folk musicians never to go back to the past in London. All the while, the performance moves on, focused on the arts and the sound and the story of the American Artist up from the bootstraps and boxcars to the elegant parties of swinging London, stylish New York, and back down again to the loner on the farm, Billy the Kid in hiding trying to deny what he is capable of becoming in the name of an authentic life.
Ignoring the fact for representations of the facades that Bob Dylan embraced turned what could have been a pedestrian, fanboyish biopic into a brilliant classic of cinema, and the identity of distinctively American Arts.
Brilliant stuff. I’m buying this film. I will watch it a lot.