18 November 2007 | mickjongold
Amazing! (Dylan's not there)
This film amazed me. One reason it worked for me is because it's drenched in Dylan's music. I wasn't expecting that. Most of the time, it's Dylan's voice when 'Blind Willie McTell' or 'Moonshiner' or 'Idiot Wind' (the slow, acoustic version) suddenly erupt on the sound track to huge emotional effect. Other times instrumental teasers from 'Man In The Long Black Coat' or 'Nashville Skyline Rag' are planted in the mix like fragments of dreams you can't quite focus on. All the pre-release publicity had revolved around Cate Blanchett is girl Dylan! and Marcus Carl Franklin is African American boy Dylan! but the film itself unfolds like a kaleidoscopic dream where the pieces never quite meet. A bit like me and all my friends scratching our heads in the 1960s and 1970s and earnestly wondering how John Wesley Harding related to Blonde On Blonde, or how Slow Train Coming related to Blood On the Tracks. Well they don't. In "Chronicles, Volume One" Dylan dwells on the moment when he stumbled across Rimbaud's declaration "Je est un autre" which translates into English: "I is someone else". Dylan writes: "When I read those words the bells went off. It made perfect sense. I wish someone would have mentioned it to me earlier." That insight has sustained Dylan thru all his multiple personalities, finger pointing folkie, rock & roll rebel, Nashville good ol' boy (Oh me oh my, love that country pie), tormented lover, Born Again Christian. When he performed on his first album, aged 21, he was trying to summon up the voice of a 60 year old blues singer.
That insight sustains this movie because Haynes and his team have been able to match a visual style to each image of Dylan's life. From the burnt out black & white textures of 'Fellini's 8½' which seem to lock Blanchett inside an amphetamine-fuelled bubble of superstardom to the mellow colour photography of 'McCabe and Mrs Miller' which frames Richard Gere. I was surprised by the long Gere sequence. He seems like a recluse in the backwoods but all these strange characters and circus animals roll past, capturing the mood of those bizarre Basement Tape songs: 'Please Mrs. Henry', 'Open The Door Homer'. It seems to be set in a realm that Greil Marcus called 'The Old, Weird America'. And there's a visionary flash where Gere peers into the landscape and has a glimpse of Vietnam. It made perfect sense to me. There's a moment in the Sing Out! interview with Dylan in 1968 (when Dylan was secluded in Woodstock) when Happy Traum asked Dylan "Why don't you speak out against the Vietnam War?" and Dylan replied: "That really doesn't exist. It's not for or against the war. I'm speaking of a certain painter and he's all for the war. He's ready to go over there himself. And I can comprehend him. People just have their own views. Anyway, how do you know that I'm not, as you say, for the war?" When Charlotte Gainsbourg (who seems to be playing a composite of Suze Rotolo and Sara Dylan) suddenly drops the divorce settlement into Heath Ledger's lap, the film cuts to newsreel shots of Henry Kissinger and Lo Duc Tho signing the Vietnam ceasefire accords in Paris. This film isn't a biopic, this film works in a free association surreal way, like Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, or Highlands works. It's true to the spirit of one of Dylan's greatest songs, a song which goes places where no words can go, a song which gives this film its title: "Now, when I keep believing I was born to love her /But she knows that the kingdom waits so high above her /And I run but I race, but it's not too fast or slow /But I don't deceive her. I'm not there, I'm gone...