Jan 08

The Fast Bob Dylan Show

Do You See + FT25 comments • 1,026 views

Thinking about how to write about I’m Not There has been almost as entertaining as watching the admittedly already very entertaining film. First I considered taking a director heavy view. No huge fan of Todd Haynes, I was toying with comparing and contrasting the film with his last stab at a rock biopic – Velvet Goldmine – which I hated. One of the plus points of I’m Not There is that is has made me consider that maybe I was wrong about Velvet Goldmine. Indeed there are similar tricks in both films (the lead character is rarely referred to by name), but Velvet Goldmine’s biggest failing was the inability to use the original Bowie music. I’m Not There has no such problem, and delights in shoehorning the odd Dylan lyric into the dialogue as well as plenty of music.

Then I thought maybe the six actors who play Dylan needed their own critique. Or perhaps a review in the style of six different critics. Here’s a film I would have loved to see Alexander Walker’s wrong-headed assessment of (he’d have hated it). But in the end pastiche, like spelling, is not my strong point. Perhaps a deconstruction of this already hugely deconstructed film would help, or would make it fall apart, it is clear that Haynes is walking a very fine line with his six stories which make part of a man.

But after a few days it came clear to me why I’m Not There is so great. Its form, the six returning characters in sometimes incomplete stories, most resemble a character based sketch comedy. OK, the film is going for laugh out loud yucks, but I’ve seen enough of BBC Three’s output in the last year to consider that no TV sketch show is all about teh funny. And of course I’m Not There is actually really funny in places. Blanchett’s deadpan stream of consciousness mumblings, Whishaw’s pretentious soundbites and of course Christian Bale’s hilarious hair acting. Understood as a series of sketches with recurring characters, the film is shorn of any need to make anything but a passing reference to narrative. As a sketch show you allow its occasional flat scenes (RICHARD GERE) to pass waiting for the next zinger. And as a sketch show you can luxuriate in how well made it is, especially if your frame of reference is TittyBangBang.


  1. 1
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    the gere scenes work as comedy if you view em as sustained surrealist folk-debunkery, of “authentic GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN countriana” cf mark twain’s tall tales etc — or (much more lamely) lake wobbegong days et al….

    this joke is prob not so gettable if yr not cheek-by-jowl with this mode; as we brits — pace carmody — really aren’t (any more) (i am old enough to remember when TV was wall-to-wall cowboys)

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    Pete Baran on 14 Jan 2008 #

    One of the best thematic bits is Marcus Carl Franklin’s Woody : stated at the start to be THE FAKE. That the film so centrally deals with this aspect of Dylan puts it leagues ahead of most trad biopics. The kid is also really good.

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    (did you see my S&S review? cf woody falls in the WATER and is swallowed by a whale — a direct lyric ref i think — but the whale is MONSTRO out of PINOCCHIO do you see!!)

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    velvet g was constantly compared to citizen kane, which didn’t help it as a pitch (oh look it is like the GREBTEST FILM EVAH except not as good) and was WRONG: as its model was very plainly better seen as man who fell to earth* — and the weak link was the WHERE’S WALDO plotline: lookin for bowie and his lyrics, as we cared not a HOOT for arthur the seeker so beefy in his satin and tat** (sorry arthur the ilxor who this character is based on IRL as i am v.fond of him)

    *which also has a rub ending
    **what VG was semi-good on: the issue of non-fascist bodytypes in the glam ring

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    Pete Baran on 14 Jan 2008 #

    Not seen it yet, not sure if my copy has been sent out yet? Looking forward to it (synopsis alone would be fun).

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    (it’s in the issue w.this film on the cover)

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    Marcello Carlin on 14 Jan 2008 #

    I sometimes think Bowie is the weak link in everything. I might have enjoyed that John Simm/Philip Glenister time travel cop series far more had it been entitled e.g. Big Six.

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    haha it should have been called COOT CLUB! <– awesoem swallows and amazons joke

    re bowie: as koganbot i think korrektly argues, once you realise its bowie’s flawed sentimental naffness that is his deep value, i think VG becomes a better film

    viz sekrit real name of “the man who fell to earth” = “for the alien was a tw@t after all!!”

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    (kogan argues for bowie’s naive sentimentality as the key to him — don’t know if he’s even seen VG)

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    Mark G on 14 Jan 2008 #

    I guess I was alone in quite enjoying Velvet Goldmine. The lack of “Bowie” was a bonus, to be honest. It became more of a general tale rather than a “story based on Bowie/Iggy” thing. The only criticism I would make was the supposed ‘surprise’ ending was so easy, I’d assumed it was a given, all the way through.

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    Pete Baran on 14 Jan 2008 #

    The VG big problem was the songs were on the whole poor sub-Suede pastiches. Which is why VG is not VG. (DYS?)

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    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 14 Jan 2008 #

    i really *enjoyed* VG, mark — i think it’s a very smart and a lovely film that isn’t actually terribly GOOD bcz haynes is happy to take (or unable not to take) periodic shortcuts through heaveyhanded intellectual pedantry

    certainly for someone with a subtle and learned visual sensibility he’s weirdly over-given to seizin you by the academic lapels and shoutin DO YOU SEE

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    Mark M on 14 Jan 2008 #

    I liked the VG soundtrack – this might have been because it was played in the Neon office until we submitted, in the same way as everyone had to see the film as many times as it took until they admitted it was good…

    I think VG addresses what I’m Not There doesn’t – the question of why anyone would be actually be that bothered by a singer turning their back on what they’ve done before. Considering that I’m Not There circles around the betrayal – Cate-Bob and Heath-Bob proclaim their disengagement from the (straightforwards/folk establishment) politics of protest, Christian-Bob (casting for the purposes of punnery?) and Richard-Bob offer versions of what you do after you go away – you don’t get much of an idea about why it was such a big deal, beyond a bit in the Newport bit. Whereas the Eat The Document footage in the Scorsese doc showed the incredible intensity of feeling among the British Dylan fanbase, who were by no means predominantly speccy student types. And they all came night after night and paid money to see him in the weird hope that he wouldn’t turn on the amps. People really believed in him, for reasons I find baffling (esp because 93% of his decent songs are post-betrayal).

    Further thoughts on I’m Not There:

    1) The whale is great

    2) If Cate B is meant to be so good, why does she kill the great number of protest singers gag stone dead with her delivery?

    3) I was totally sold on the Ledger-Gainsbourg bit mostly due to the pale blue-bright red palette of their mid-60s meeting.

    4) For a movie about a musician that’s packed full of great songs, it lacks good musical moments.

    5) Although I thought the Gere bit was rubbish, I guess it’s Haynes saying to the ’68 Bob & Robbie Robertson & company that “you might think that you can say that politics is all bunk and drop out and live in a wooden shack and pretend it’s the mythical 19th century, but you’ll still have to deal with modern life and the power structure eventually.”

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 Jan 2008 #

    i thought cate b WAS good, but one of the things she certainly did was make bob d less of a awesome zinger factory — i guess i quite liked that she clumsified the cool quite a lot (in the big set-piece press conference he seems more tired and petulant than Ahead of the Game)

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    Mark M on 14 Jan 2008 #

    Yes, I can see that the appeal of that. although in Don’t Look Back & Eat The Document he really does seem to be able to baffle his foes.

    I think I might have been happier with the film if I hadn’t heard the radio show, in which he comes across as likable – most people in the public eye are more likable on radio, I find, with obv exceptions like the panel of The Moral Maze – and even rather sentimental. It find that rather undercuts mythological bad Bob.

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    Pete on 15 Jan 2008 #

    See also presenters of You And Yours and obv FTLoP.

    You’re right that there is rarely a moment when the film lets go of its conceits and just lets us listen to the music, but then its not the films job to necessarily be an advocate for the music. It usually just lets the music be (though actually Bale’s Christian number is scarily terrific). I suppose this may be what I disliked about the VG soundtrack as presented in the film: they are trailed and shown to be great moments of pop history when they are actually stand-ins, the actual tracks were not given room to breathe whilst I was thinking what real Bowie or Iggy numbers they stood for.

    Oh, heads up Slade In Flame on BBC4 on Thursday!

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 Jan 2008 #

    b-but neither film is about music really: they’re both about flight and self-entrapment (ie haynes’s only subject evah)

    i liked the ingenuity of haynes’s solution to the bowie-ban in VG, and also his mix-and-match games with bandnames and songnames (also: jack fairy real name JACK KERMODE call him by etc) — it reached out and gave the film a movement-y dimension, which is REALLY unusual (ie actually winkling in a single made-up face or group into pop-history-as-is is an mugg’s game, so haynes created an invented stand-in for the WHOLE OF GLAM AND GLITTER)

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 Jan 2008 #

    haha re “self-entrapment” haynes’s next project but one — eg after the pitilessly linear one on the way as per pattern — shd be PAUL MORLEY’S LIFESTORY, based on the fresh prince of bel NOTHING and INTERVIEWING THE SUGAB4BES WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR!

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    Mark M on 15 Jan 2008 #

    “flight and self-entrapment” = why otherwise lame Gere bit mattes.

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    Mark M on 15 Jan 2008 #

    Or even matters.

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 Jan 2008 #

    SPOILERS: device-wise (which is not to say the device works) the gere section i. is (as you say) a responsive skewing of where dylan actually escaped to post-crash, basements tapes AND new morning; ii. a claim (as you say) that THIS mode of flight won’t work either (pat garrett IS “mr jones”), bcz none of em will; iii. a statement kind of in negative of the famous (and really strong) quote about the “old songs” that is here put in cate b’s mouth to close the film (roses twining into hearts and naked cats in bed with spears, or whatever it is) –> that this tradition is a power, sometimes asleeping, sometimes awake, and never really a haven; cyclic films necessarily leak tension away, but the season in silly surrealism — complete with a hanged woody — ends in gere jumping a train back into the city

    (haha also: jesus IS a kind of a haven but it’s a rubbish one)

    i enjoyed gere’s own unruffled elegiac melancholia — i like the way his wooden mannequin demeanour of yore has turned to a strength

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    Tom Grasty on 15 Jan 2008 #

    A sketch show, huh? I never thought of it that way. But good POV. Since you seem to bea fan, I thought I’d take an opportinity to let you know about my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which I think you will enjoy.

    It’s a murder-mystery. But not just any rock superstar is knocking on heaven’s door. The murdered rock legend is none other than Bob Dorian, an enigmatic, obtuse, inscrutable, well, you get the picture…

    Suspects? Tons of them. The only problem is they’re all characters in Bob’s songs.

    You can get a copy on Amazon.com or go “behind the tracks” at http://www.bloodonthetracksnovel.com to learn more about the book.

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 Jan 2008 #

    obtuse seems a bit harsh

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    Marcello Carlin on 15 Jan 2008 #

    not to mention tautological

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    Mark M on 25 Jan 2020 #

    Watching (in small chunks) Springsteen On Broadway, and struck by the contrast between the reaction to Dylan’s ‘betrayal’ in the 1960s, and Springsteen’s self-accusation (‘I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life! I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked five days a week. I’ve never stepped foot in a factory…’ etc)
    Dylan got booed and treated with genuine bitterness by many fans (although obviously continued to be revered – to a deranged level, often – by many others). Springsteen got warm chuckles.
    Why? I think because a) he waited until he had reached international treasure status before declaring himself a fraud and b) while he’s attempting to dynamite his own authenticity – which had seemed a key part of his identity – he’s not rejecting the values represented by his art. I.e. Bruce Springsteen is a fake, or at least a man playing a role partly based on his father, and partly based on others, and very little on Bruce himself, but – he’s implying – The River or Atlantic City aren’t.

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