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in Filmmaking
on Sep 4, 2007

Perhaps because Gross doesn’t write for a daily outlet but more likely because the erudition of his criticism is genuinely thrilling, the occasional essays on film by screenwriter Larry Gross pack a punch within our metacritic’d, tomato-splattered blogosphere. Here he is with an early appreciation of Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There that’s just gone online at Film Comment.

“How can a work not give us politics and yet be so political?” he asks in a piece that opens by quoting Jean-Godard, and Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari and ends by considering how Haynes’s film fits into a moment signified by other recent Gross favorites (Zodiac, Inland Empire, and Syndromes and a Century). His opening paragraph is below, but read the entire piece at the link.

Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There is an essay-poem on the myth and history surrounding the career and music of Bob Dylan. Allusively complex, it’s also a Finnegans Wake–like meditation on Sixties film culture. Haynes’s references to films like Masculin-Féminin, Petulia, A Hard Day’s Night, 8 1/2, and Darling are not film-historical erudition for its own sake but serve to underscore that Sixties cinema was always already influencing the cultural-political reality from which Dylan sprang. Rather than one more recitation of biographical anecdote, Haynes’s conceit is the construction of a kind of ur-Dylan substance that is drastically collective, a-chronological, and non-psychological. Six Dylan alter egos circulate through the film: Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale are the nearest-to-literal incarnations, with Richard Gere as a mix of Dylan and Billy the Kid, Ben Whishaw as Dylan by way of Rimbaud, and Marcus Franklin, a 10-year-old African-American, embodying Dylan inhabiting the persona of Woody Guthrie. Finally, Heath Ledger plays a movie star haunted by the experience of having recently played “Dylan” in a film within the film. Haynes has previously tried constructing Chinese boxes of allusion, quotation, and pastiche in Superstar and Velvet Goldmine but he masters this strategy in I’m Not There. The film’s thematic center of gravity is the tragicomic success-and-failure of Dylan as a political prophet.

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