Sunday, February 22, 2009

He's not there

I had heard of the movie I'm not there about Bob Dylan, but had no idea how brilliant it was. Today I watched it, and although I couldn't make head or tails of it at the beginning, I was gradually drawn into it, and halfway through I realized that I was watching a masterpiece. Bob Dylan himself does not appear anywhere in the movie, except in the final shot. What we see is fragments about other people, sometimes with well-known names (Woodie Guthrie, Billy the Kid), but they are not those persons either. It's the movie itself that is Bob Dylan, and he is present everywhere precisely because he keeps eluding the viewer. Still, once that elusiveness itself begins to look like a stable identity, it is deconstructed as well (never more painfully than with Dylan the gospel singer). Again and again, Dylan appears by being absent, for example in a scene where a singer with a painted face in a village roadshow sings "Going to Acapulco", and we realize that although it looks nothing like Bob Dylan and The Band, it is they who are present on the podium. Central to the film is the stunning impersonation of Dylan by Cate Blanchett (see photo), in black-and-white. His conversations with "Mr Jones" have the effect of a continuous series of démasqués where the joke is always on the viewer, who will find that not Dylan's but his own identity is on the line. Perhaps the whole movie is summed up in the 7th "simple rule for a life in hiding", recited by Dylan's impersonation as Arthur Rimbaud: "Never create anything, it will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you the rest of your life, it will never change".

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