I’m Not There

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

i’m not there

I’ve always been a fan of Todd Haynes. He seems to have a singular and sensitive vision. Watching and re-watching his 2007 film, I’m Not There, I’m struck by how he has managed to perfect such a vision in this rather unusual story. I’m Not There is loosely based on the life of Bob Dylan, although he is never actually explicitly named apart from the introductory caption. The film revolves around six different Dylan-inspired characters played by different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw).

I’m Not There is like an anti-biography. The notion of a biography is to tell the story of an individual’s life in a linear fashion. I’m Not There is the exact opposite: it is the fragmentation of a life told via micro-narratives that are loosely connected to each other. I think it would take multiple posts to unravel all these micro-narratives and their significance. But I’m not sure that’s what interests me about this film.

To a certain extent, what interests me about I’m Not There is how it builds upon Haynes’s earlier films, particularly Velvet Goldmine. Haynes’s Dylan-inspired fragmented storytelling is probably one of the truest expressions of a saying he used in Velvet Goldmine, borrowed from Oscar Wilde: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. This is precisely what I’m Not There explores: the different masks we wear, the different aspects of our personality which are all “true” in their own way.

But I actually think what interests me more about I’m Not There is its potential for invention. A film like this is so unsettled, so fragmentary, that it allows me to do what I love most in films: create. I have a habit of remembering single images from films and then constructing a narrative for them. Certain films will only let you get away with this on a small scale, whereas I’m Not There inherently compels such a form of audience construction.

This film is entirely contradictory, complex and multiple, so I can understand why some critics were baffled. But it’s precisely because it’s contradictory that I think it tells the truth. A few years ago, when I was writing the last paragraph of my thesis, I quoted this line from Gail Jones’s Dreams of Speaking: “We are all large enough – are we not? – to contain contradictions” (Gail Jones, Dreams of Speaking, Harvill Secker, 2006, p. 83). I used this line to help summarise and explain the last 249 pages of my thesis, and why I spent a few years of my life writing on what I wrote, and exploring the films that I did. I think that one of the functions of a film like I’m Not There is to show us all how large we really are.


SJ said...

I've never thought to watch this film but from the way you've described it i'm now intrigued and think i might have to investigate.

Galit said...

Sometimes in your reviews you capture the thoughts I have but cannot express in words.
Enjoyed reading your review as always and the film stills you have chosen are marvelous.

mckenzie. said...

i really want to watch it, now you've posted this! the images are lovely, it sounds so interesting. x

Silvia said...

I think "I'm not there" is strictly for those who are somewhat familiar with Dylan's life. Otherwise, you'll love the imagery but the story will lose you right off the bat.

the wandering writer said...

I love this post. I have been meaning to see this film since it came out. Thanks for reminding me!

I completely agree with you. I am currently reading a book called The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. She is a literary agent and the book is basically advice for an aspiring writer, which I am.

But back to my point. She said that in today's literary world, critics shun writers who try to work in more than one genre. "Gone are the days of the Renaissance man," she says (pg. 16).

This to me is contradictory towards the creativity of a writer. Same goes for a film. I do not wish to limit myself in any way because I have so many different masks and personalities. Like Todd Haynes, Gail Jones and you, I believe that contemporary artists can become Renaissance men/women if we are brave enough to be casting away the prototypes and rules to just be creative. Completely, creatively free.


Sarah said...

i really enjoyed this. gotta love that line from gail jones' dreams of speaking. it's so very true, really. and i guess that sometimes we just really need to be reminded of how large we really are in this huge world. x

Vanessa said...

What beautiful images you've chosen from the film! I haven't seen this film but like the idea of showing a person from different sides, those contradictions and fragments that make up a whole personality. I haven't seen so much of Todd Haynes' work but remember Far From Heaven with Julianne Moore which I so loved.

lizzie said...

that is such a beautiful quote...brilliantly explains so many things...i loved i'm not there...although the first time through, i didn't find it the relaxing, zone-out movie i was looking for.

Petra said...

great post. I have to admit I hadn't heard about the movie, but will def go look for it. great quote to remember, too.

thanks for sharing :)

Kate Bickmore said...

I really love your review and your film stills. This is definitely a favorite movie of mine. So wonderfully done!

aldrin said...

i like this movie, especially the carl marcus franklin character - when he sings "when the ship comes in".

Tana said...

haven`t seen it yet, but read the reviews in a magazine. the film is in different colours,are they connected with the storyline? anyway i will find it to watch. merci for an excellent post

Tracey said...

Your thoughts and reflections on film are always so insightful, so even when you discuss a film I'm yet to see (like this one) I feel like I've gained insight without having the content completely revealed ... that's what makes you such a magical writer and reviewer.

A film that shows us 'how large we really are' ... I very much like that idea.

gracia said...

"to show us all how large we really are." Yes! Yes, I like this idea a tremendous deal. Looking at these images from the film (I saw only once at the cinema), I am struck by some visuals I could not remember seeing. A film to revisit. Another film to revisit.

Ella said...

my parents actually own that movie, "i'm not there!" i must inquire further... :)

hila said...

Sj: I hope you do investigate it further, it’s great.

Galit: thanks for saying so, I always feel like I haven’t said enough, or perhaps like I haven’t expressed myself properly.

Mckenzie: yes, watch it, you’ll love it.

Silvia: you’re probably right, it does make so much more sense if you know a bit about Dylan’s biography. Also, I think the film borrows heavily from Scorcese’s documentary on him.

Natalie: I’m also personally tired of people placing art into categories, like everything fits neatly into a pre-packaged box. People are more interesting and complex than that, as is art.

Sarah: yes, we do; I return to that quote often in my head.

Vanessa: I loved that film too – I think you’ll really like his other films.

Lizzie: it’s not exactly a “lose yourself” type of movie, your brain has to work overtime :)

Petra: my pleasure!

Kate Bickmore: it is so wonderfully done.

Aldrin: yep, that was such an awesome scene!

Tana: it’s hard to call anything “connected” in this film, it has a very unusual sort of structure. Things are loosely linked here.

Tracey: thanks tracey, that’s very kind of you to say. You know, I have to be honest and say that sometimes I really don’t get it when someone gives me a compliment on my reviews, I am very very harsh on myself. But on the other hand, it’s important to hear encouragement every once in a while :) So thanks!

Gracia: I think it takes multiple viewings to get all the images in this film, it’s so loaded with them, so intricate.

Ella: well then, your parents are officially cool :) Hope you get to watch it!

Jen said...

'...it allows me to do what I love most in films: create'

that you claim the experience of film as something to make more out of, to create from it, to remember it in segments as well as a whole: this is why film is so important to our lives. I love the way you have captured the part of the experience that happens when the film ends.

TC said...

this makes me want to see this again... i remember this movie well. it was so beautiful... and we almost got kicked out of the theatre for sneaking in a can of beer. haha

Megan Champion said...

Your writing is brilliant hila.

And I love how you play the story in stills.

You inspire me to watch.

louise said...

Your words have inspired me to revisit this film. I shall have to skip down to the dvd store one day soon for it. xolj

julie said...

it sounds so interesting - going to look for it. your writing is wonderful Hila!

hila said...

jen: thanks jen, and I couldn't have put it better myself :)

tc: I actually think beer would be the perfect companion for this film, ha.

megan champion: thanks so much megan!

louise: I'd love to hear your thoughts on it louise.

julie: thank you, that's very kind of you to say.