Evangelizing

I saw two amazing films over the Thanksgiving weekend. One had zero music and moved incredibly slowly. The other was full of some of the finest songs of the twentieth century and buzzed like MTV.

The first was “No Country for Old Men“, which literally haunted me for the proceeding 24 hours. The Cohen brothers have done it again, “Fargo” style, only more violent and less funny. The similarities to “Fargo” are obvious: unassuming cop doing his/her job, ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances due to getting mixed up in illegal activities, and barren landscapes showcased by marvelous cinematography. Javier Bardem’s calmness transfers to the audience, and the lack of music used as queues make it realistic, yet even creepier. The only real issues I had with it were some consistency things with the time period. Like the peanuts packages at the gas station — those were modern peanut packages while everything else in the store was clearly vintage. Still, if a finer specimim of Film will be released this year, I would be highly surprised.

The other movie I saw was “I’m Not There“, you know, the Dylan movie (as I so often have had to indicate). Two words: CATE BLANCHETT. Seriously. I mean, my God that woman can act. She was the only thing that saved “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” from going all green with patina after twenty minutes, and here she completely steals the show. I wish there was a director’s cut with only her bits spanning over two hours. The film is a wonderful representation of Dylan as a developing performer basically through the late ’70s when he was born again (though it skips about 10 years). Nothing means anything and everything means something. The fact that six actors play Dylan in different times, and with different names even, is a brilliant concept. Bob Dylan isn’t even his own name, so what difference does it make what we call him? He made up his life history, tried to hide that he was a Jew from northern Minnesota, so why can’t we make a black kid symbolize his journey to New York? Isn’t that what Dylan would want? It could have been a disaster, but Todd Haynes did a fantastic job.

However, I do have some problems with the movie. I posted it on the IMDB forum, but I’ll post it again here just for fun, under the cut.

I think it will get nominated for best director, best original screenplay and at least one acting (Blanchett, of course) Oscar, but not best picture, and here’s why:

1) The film asks and assumes too much of the viewer. Haynes assumes we’re all as big of Dylan fans as he is, that we know details about his history/mystery. Luckily, I do have the background necessary to love this film, but I think the idiosyncratic bits will get lost on a lot of viewers (especially those under, say, 35). For example, visiting Woody Guthrie, the motorcycle accident, and the Edie Sedgwick character. Also, if you don’t know about Dylan ever going into hiding, like half of the movie won’t make any sense.

2) There’s a lot of question about Richard Gere’s Dylan. It’s fine to leave something up for the audience to discern for themselves, but Gere was all over the film, yet it was unclear, in comparison to the other Dylans, which Dylan he was. Why do that to the audience? Personally, I was very confused because I thought the Ledger Dylan was the Woodstock era Dylan until Gere’s part became more focused. I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters in light of what I understand about Dyaln’s history. It sounds funny, I know, because one was a total loner and the other trying to be a family guy, but to me those two actors played the same Dylan. Unless Gere is modern Dylan, which is possible.

3) The role of the motorcycle accident is confusing. Any Dylan fan knows this was a decisive time for him. So why is it basically shown at the beginning and then literally shown near the end, when, as I said in #2, there are two Dylans who reveal out-of-the-spotlight Dylan in between? Why is that motorcycle crash in there at all when nothing else is so literal (except meeting Guthrie, which is sort of perplexing when I think about it now)? The funeral sequence near the opening made me think that Blanchett’s Dylan would “die” and another Dylan would be “born” (though out of order, which is fine). Maybe that is what happened, but it was hard to tell.

4) Why have the same actor play early folky Dylan AND Christian Dylan? Is Haynes equating those two Dylans? Good lord, I hope not because I don’t feel like they are anything alike. Plus it’s weird to skip like 10 years and point out his born-again status when so much else happened in the meantime, and since.

5) What’s with the mockumentary bits with Julianne Moore? Seriously, what is the point? Was it just a way for Haynes to work with Moore again? Plus, my friend pointed out that “musician” was misspelled on one of the mockumentary bits. WTF?

With all that said, I want to reiterate how much I loved this film. I can’t stop thinking about it. And the soundtrack is amazing — indie rock’s finest worshiping Dylan. I love how some made cameos in the film.

Update: Apparently there was a pamphlet handed out at other theaters during screenings. I never saw a pamphlet at the Uptown. A couple people responded to my questions at IMDB, and apparently the pamphlet addressed most of my concerns listed above. Here is part of my response:

But now that I think of it, what the hell kind of a movie is so pretentious that it requires a pamphlet to explain it? I still love the film, but I’m kind of mad that my questions are so obviously answered in the hand-out, proving that Haynes knew they’d be common questions.

I’m a web usability expert, and one favorite saying our business has is “No, you can’t just explain it in the manual.” There’s nothing wrong with making a movie that’s artsy or avant-garde or non-linear. I’m totally down with art for art’s sake. But you don’t get a manual with a Bob Dylan record, and you shouldn’t get a manual with a movie inspired by him. Either it’s so bloody cool that you don’t care that it doesn’t make sense (like a Dylan record), or it’s just plain confusing and not cool. “I’m Not There” is somewhere in the middle.

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  • Comments (2)
  1. Seriously?
    You noticed the peanut packages?

    Wow.

    I was so transfixed by the actors that they ( the directors… continuity-wise) could have pulled a lot over on me.

    I loved that movie – though I unfortunately spaced out around the time of the ending. I missed the whole dream story. I’m such a space cadet.

    • T. Ruth
    • December 1st, 2007 3:16pm

    Yes, I’m being overly picky. :)

    You’re the second person I’ve talked to who spaced out at the end of the movie, and I did too! Suddenly it ended and I was like, “Shit, I totally missed the ending!” I can’t wait to see it again.

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