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WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Forget what you’ve heard. This is NOT a biopic of Bob Dylan. It’s the meshing of a handful of different short stories, each centring on characters who bear a loose resemblance to the singer at different stages of his life and career.
First we meet a young black boy, calling himself Woody Guthrie (Franklin), who’s stowing away on trains on a cross-country journey, with his guitar.
Then there’s Arthur Rimbaud (Wishaw), giving an intimate and intense smoke-assisted interview.
The story of folk singer Jack Rollins (Bale) is told in the form of a rock documentary, with clips of his performances and talking heads of his former collaborators and friends. His character later returns as a priest.
Robbie Clark (Ledger) is a little further removed from Dylan; he’s an actor, playing Rollins in a biopic, while in real life, struggling with a less than perfect relationship with his beautiful French wife (Gainsbourg).
Perhaps the most memorable personification of Dylan’s likenesses comes in Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Jude Quinn – representing the singer’s 1965 tour of England, where he’s under fire from fans for turning electric.
And arguably the one that jars most with the rest of the film is Richard Gere turning up as Billy The Kid – recalling Dylan’s performance Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 film.
That’s pretty much it as far as a plot is concerned – there’s no one story – no conventional, linear rags-to-riches tale – just an intercut – rather than interwoven – series of otherwise unrelated short-stories about musicians.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Each facet of “Dylan’s” life is portrayed by a different character, played by a different actor, allowing Todd Haynes to present coherent and truthful representations of the singer which might otherwise seem to conflict with one another.
Some of the segments work better than others – some seem more relevant and the “Dylans” seem more familiar.
The Blanchett and Bale segments are perhaps the most successful at uncovering the Dylan that most people know.
You’d have to be more of an enthusiast to understand what Haynes is getting at in some of the other segments.
As a self-contained piece of cinema, this is not a satisfying film – it doesn’t tell a story, but several apparently unrelated character studies, which to fans of Dylan will have considerably more impact than to viewers who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of his life and work.
There’s no doubting that Todd Haynes has lovingly made a clever, detailed and well observed film, but for most of us uneducated cinema-goers, it’ll come across as a rather self-indulgent, overlong piece of art, which is sadly a little too knowing and incoherent.

opens nationwide 21st December 2007

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