i'm not there, the new movie by todd haynes about bob dylan, has just displaced the fisher king and the godfather as my favorite movie of all time. it is visually stunning, emotionally affecting, and sublimely exhilarating. stop reading this and go check your local listings.
alright. in nailing the moving target that is bob dylan, the only real complaint i have about the movie [i'll spare you the summary... this is my favorite write- up of the movie so far] is that... how do i say this? obviously, fundamentally, the movie is an exultation of the man's genius, both of the poetry/ majesty of his songs and also of his enigmatical shape- shfting [evidenced best by the bookend arthur rimbaud allusion-- "i is another"-- and by the billy the kid boxcar speech when he finds woody guthrie's guitar, "i know when i wake up i'm one person, and when i go to sleep i'm somebody else"]. what i take slight issue with is that none of the characters, save the woody guthrie character and maybe billy the kid, seem to exhibit the heart or humanity that i know dylan possesses. the early jack rollins character hints at it, but he is at the time too lost in the adulation by and his subsequent rejection of the protest movement to fully communicate anything other than confusion and wounded pride [the later rollins character i consider too peripheral and don't count].
the robbie, and especially the jude, characters for me don't do anything but reinforce the idea of the artist/ narcissist nexus-- which, of course, i'm sure exists to a certain extent in most cases but this is fuckin' bob dylan we're talking about here. while anybody with a more than cursory knowledge of the dylan mythos knows that in 1966 he often was a prickly and silver- tongued son of a bitch, staying up for days at a time fueled on speed, and heading for total oblivion* [most famously illustrated in don't look back], exactly like the jude character, i still wonder: was that all he was? what about the guy who was, at the very same time, out there singing 'mr. tambourine man'-- still one of the greatest transcendance- seeking songs of all time?
and again, anyone who's read any of the eleventy- billion dylan biographies out there, or really anyone who's ever listened to blood on the tracks, knows that in 1974 bob was in the middle of a divorce. the robbie/ claire portion of the movie parallells this very well**, but again i wonder: are we simply suppposed to intuit that the duality of his nature allows him to be both a complete asshole [i'm starting to sound like my mother here a little bit] in person, and that the songs alone redeem him?
i guess i just feel like i have to defend my man bob a little bit here. i wish there would have been a little more of his humor [and not the demeaning, acerbic humor of the jude character--that nico/ bobby neuwirth scene is pretty ugly] and a little more of his humanity [he's written some of the greatest love songs of all time-- "tomorrow is a long time", "you're gonna make me lonesome when you go", "mama, you been on my mind"!-- where's that fuckin' guy?] in the movie, that's all.
but again, let me reiterate that this is an incredible movie. and the songs are there [never before was i a huge fan of 'going to alcapulco' off the basement tapes, for instance, but the jim james/ calexico version is so haunting and beautiful that it's now a new favorite] to strike some balance, so it's not like the movie disparages dylan or portrays him in an unfair light. in fact, the depictions are quite honest as far as i'm concerned, judged by everything i know about him-- which is a fair amount [i'm no greil marcus, but i've done my homework].
if you're at all interested in the world's greatest living artist, go see it. i'd love to know what you thought.
*cate blanchett deserves every bit of glowing press she's been getting for her portrayal of this, and the academy award.
**incidentally, the montage set to the bootleg series' version of 'idiot wind' [one of my top five favorite dylan songs of all time, though i prefer the angrier blood version] in the movie is so terribly sad that it was almost hard to watch. all in all, the movie made me well up at least three times, if not four, but it was during this scene that a few tears actually fell from my eyes. amazing.