Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Not Finally There...

It only took me six days into its Chicago release, but I finally saw it, and I loved it. A or A–? Not sure yet. Certainly a few cuts and images don't work, and as much as it's a movie that seems to need all of its parts, I could have done without the whole Ledger/Gainsbourg track. But I also love that the movie is bigger than all of its elements, that it's edited with such unbelievable momentum, especially for a long film with such conceptual and intellectual designs, and that it borrows liberally from so many artforms (music, photography, painting, theater, sideshow) without ever once seeming like it could have worked as anything except a movie. Such formal vitality. Such directorial confidence. Clearly one of the year's best, and clearly more to follow (probably after a second viewing).

Oh, and for those of you still waiting, the answer to Saturday's riddle was actually #5. I love The Mist, in spite of and maybe even because of its lapses into stylistic and rhetorical and narrative egregiousness—because it's a top-flight B-movie that actually draws some fuel from its limitations of technique and finesse, and the images, atmospheres, and plot twists that do work are pretty great, including one of the year's most memorable endings. So I'll explain later why I prefer it to American Gangster, to Beowulf, to Margot at the Wedding, to The Savages, to Southland Tales, to Love in the Time of Cholera, even, I'm pretty sure, to No Country for Old Men.

But not to I'm Not There. So my secret's out at the very moment it becomes passé anyway. C'est la vie.

Photo © 2007 The Weinstein Company/Killer Films

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Blogger StinkyLulu said...

Well, golly. No big surprise, Mrs. Haynes, but count me surprised. I really struggled with I'm Not There (in much the same way I struggled with Velvet Goldmine, interestingly enough). MrStinky even walked out of I'm Not There about 10 minutes before it ended, he was so frustrated. So...hmmm.

Tell me: to what extent were you steeped in Dylanphilia prior to the film?

True confession: I could have done without Heath Ledger but doubt I could have survived the film without Charlotte Gainsbourg. When I realized that section was Haynes' riff on biopic banality, I was very embarrassed by my insipid shallowness. Welcome to my world.

7:16 AM, November 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I need to see it again. I struggled with it too. I'm with Stinkylulu about not surviving without Gainsbourg. I could have done without the whole Richard Gere section. But none of the sections should have felt so disposable, so I want to see it again. And Don't Look Back, while I'm at it.

One thing I didn't expect was the #1 laugh-out-loud moment in 2007 releases, when Blanchett and band surprise the audience at the Newport Folk Festival.

9:44 AM, November 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed it so much. I loved it (easy A), even if some of it was probably over my head (I'm not terribly familiar with Dylan beyond, superficially, his music).

Oddly, given the reactions to the film, I wasn't expecting to enjoy all the various sections in equal measure, but there it is. Even the Gere section! And though Gainsbourg gave my favorite performance in the movie, Blanchett is a close second, and I can hardly begrudge her any awards season attention she garners for the role.

10:11 AM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Matt Noller said...

This is my favorite movie of the year, and I would not consider myself a Dylan obsessive. I probably know more about him than the average Joe, and I own the large majority of his albums, but I wasn't familiar with all or even most of the more esoteric stuff Haynes refers to. This is especially true of the Gere section, which I ended up loving anyway because of the way that it reverberates through and deepens the rest of the work.

The Ledger/Gainsbourg section is my second favorite behind Blanchett's, and I actually think Ledger is fantastic in the film. I liked all the performances a great deal, not just the Dylans.

It's a film that really takes a couple of viewings to even begin to grasp what exactly Haynes is up to. I loved it on first sight, but my second viewing solidified a lot of the formal aspects and layers of reference, meaning, emotion, etc. that he's working with, and I'm sure there's many more left to be uncovered. That's just so exciting to me.

12:59 PM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger tim r said...

So glad you weren't disappointed! I'm a huge fan, as you know, since Toronto. And the truth is I don't even like Dylan. It's Haynes's expertise up-ending a whole genre, and really exploring the idea of persona, that does it for me. I'm definitely more of a Dylan fan since seeing it, or at least, I get him more...

You've got me psyched about The Mist too, though I'm not sure when it comes out here. Head thee to 1408 for the year's other underrated King flick (and crafty B movie).

5:17 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

count me among the people who needed Gainsborough as stablizing force. I don't care if it is a riff on biopic banality (which totally should be riffed on) because there are conventions that are needed to some extent. and I'm not sure that it is anyway... since each section is riffing on other films and filmmakers too, so stinky--do you think Haynes is anti whichever filmmaker he is riffing on there (in truth i forget)

anyway. the cate blanchett section was the most exciting definitely but i don't think it's just because of my agnostic feelings about her acting that I don't think SHE deserves the credit for it exactly. That section seems to be where the filmmaking is most engaged, where the humor is fullest, where there's exciting cameos, where Bruce Greenwood proves a great foil to Blanchett. Loved that entire section.

I am bewildered by the Gere piece though. So bewildered it dropped a grade for me. Matt, i'd love to hear how this section reverbates through the whole thing because at least from my one viewing it was totally stand alone and did not cohere with the rest of the movie at all.

but I know nothing about Dylan.

8:02 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Matt Noller said...

As brilliant as I think Blanchett is in the film, there's no question that she's not the only reason her section is probably the best. The filmmaking is at its most blatantly passionate and energetic, the b&w cinematography is stunning, and Bruce Greenwood is just fantastic.

I wouldn't say that the Gere section "coheres," necessarily; it is admittedly very different from the rest of the movie, and purposely so. I feel like for Haynes, though, this is the section where, thematically and narratively, everything merges at a center point.

Most reviews cite this section as representing Dylan's "hippie western" days, with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and The Basement Tapes, and it is that. But it's also, I think, representative of the period in the 80s where Dylan withdrew from what was expected of him. He was tired of being "the voice of the people" and retreated into the songs of the past by releasing an album of country songs.

Dylan at this point in his life was consciously trying to avoid similarities to his revered 60s and 70s output. So how better to show that than by casting an actor who looks nothing like Dylan, and then not even bothering to make him look or act like Dylan (the way Bale and Whishaw do)?

To me, Gere represents a Dylan looking into the past, conscious of his previous incarnations and happy to be free of them, at least temporarily. But when you've done what Dylan did in his heighday, you can't escape it, nor should you. It comes back, in the form of Greenwood's Garrett, and Dylan must revert to his old self, as Gere does to fight against the destruction of Riddle.

Gere's section is also the one where Haynes begins to cut the most freely between all six stories. Not that he hadn't been doing that before, but it had mostly been in short glimpses - a brief shot of Gere during Ledger's section, for example, or a shot of Whishaw when Gainsbourg reads Rimbaud. After Gere's section begins in full, any linear narrative thread truly dissolves, as Haynes cuts back and forth between large sections of each story; the distance between them as individual entities has disappeared. They are all Dylan, coming together in Gere's aged, (re)tired outlaw.

That's why I feel Gere's story represents a convergence of all the previous sections; he is the one Dylan avatar with the maturity to look back clearly at his previous lives and identities, and to acknowledge, as he does in the closing monologue (my favorite piece of writing in the film), that all of these pieces are part of one whole - his whole.
Change is constant, never-ending, and necessary.

And I don't know, but I almost feel like none of this would really come together - or at least wouldn't feel like it was weaved throughout the whole quite as strongly - without the Gere section. Haynes treats it as a culmination, an opportunity to merge all the narrative threads before revealing that it continues onward, with Gere/Dylan back where he started, in the same train car as Marcus Carl Franklin's Dylan, staring down at the same guitar. At the beginning of the film, Franklin claims to be from Riddle, MO. It's a loop, beginning and ending in the same place regardless of what happened in the middle. All of Dylan's changes add up to who he is, and at the end of the film, he might just be there after all.

I dunno, maybe you do need to be overly familiar with Dylan. And maybe nothing I just wrote made any sense at all. Whatever, don't worry about it. I'm not here.

2:10 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Barry said...

Nick, what did you think of Blanchett?

2:51 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger tim r said...

Matt, that is one great defence of the Gere section. I agree entirely -- a culmination and a commingling of different threads. It's also about a man in hiding from his own mythology, right?

12:57 PM, December 05, 2007  

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