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NYFF: I’m Not There

NYFF: I'm Not There

Not being the world’s foremost Bob Dylan expert, but thoroughly loving the films of Todd Haynes, I’m either the best or worst viewer for Haynes’s new Dylan movie I’m Not There. It’s not that I don’t care for Dylan’s music—I actually like what I’ve absorbed through cultural osmosis and some personal investigation a great deal. But given the sheer volume of material and the accompanying mountain of discourse, criticism and myth-mongering surrounding the man and his songs, the biggest question for me has always been: How to possibly begin really learning about Bob Dylan? So, I’ve generally sat on the sidelines. Those hoping that I’m Not There, with its splintered Dylans encompassing different portions of the man’s career, is the ur-text that will provide a greatest hits of a life (like a Ray or Walk the Line) will be sorely disappointed with Haynes’s more ambitious project. I’m Not There tells something like the story of Bob Dylan, but very obliquely—no one here is named Bob Dylan, some characters only bear passing resemblance to him and others adopt the monikers of famous persona who influenced the songwriter (Woody Guthrie, Arthur Rimbaud, Billy the Kid). Yet by so forcefully rejecting standard biographical filmmaking practices, Haynes has exploded the genre entirely and pushed his material into a series of dialectical relationships which finds histories actual and manufactured (and some that fully blend both categories) crossing swords all en route to a far richer and more multifaceted experience than any standard biopic. If one were to posit a simple thesis statement for I’m Not There, it’d read something along the lines of: an honest attempt to reckon with the myriad ways in which Bob Dylan absorbed and was absorbed by American culture. The crux being that absorption process—the moment where the two touch each other is the catalyzing one. That we can speak of these questions at all in relationship to a film genre that’s grown beyond moribund in recent years speaks to merely one of the reasons why I’m Not There is great art.

Click here to read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s review.

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