Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who's there?

Ira Kaplan is guest hosting a late night show on WFMU, and I'm tapping away at the laptop while listening to his sonic choices (the current offering sound like some kind of mix between Serge Gainsbourg and the space-age bachelor pad offerings of Esquivel. One could do worse at 11 on a Tuesday night.

For the last few days I've been coiling up to react to I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan movie Todd Haynes made with 6 actors playing Dylan in various incarnations at varying eras. A fun house mirrorview of a man who won't keep still. Saw it on Saturday night, still steeped in the remnants of Thanksgiving.

I'm not saying it was perfect (just as I'm not saying Dylan is, was, or ever shall be perfect), but I am saying it's worth watching. In fact, I'll probably go back and see it again after I let it settle in for a few more days.

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Different actors cover different facets of the Dylan diamond. No impersonation required, though Cate Blanchett does a pretty much note-perfect reading of his Bringing it All Back Home/Don't Look Back persona. Richard Gere comes closest to today's Singing Cowboy - Billy the Kid camping out in Riddle, Missouri, having faked his own execution.

His clothes are dirty, but his hands are clean

One of those films that may stick with you for a while, ride with you on the subway, go with you through your day.

It's funny to me how often people just don't get it, with all kinds of things, Dylan being one of the most obvious. I mean, yeah, he has TONS of fans, with nigh-religious devotion, and many music critics likewise treat his body of work like some kind of Holy Grail. But his detractors can be just as fervent - usually starting with some kind of resistance to his voice, then moving on to attack the cultishness of his followers.

Reminds me of a conversation I had with a Croatian co-worker of mine a few years back: this guy was and is super smart, but just did not get Dylan, especially the vocal stylings (and I gotta tell you, his Croatian accented Dylan immitation was pretty hilarious. "Mneeyeh, mnyeeaahh!") This was a dayjob co-worker, but he knew me (and, I think it's fair to say, admired me) as an actor and vocal artist, and when I put in a strong defense of Dylan's powerful vocal interpretation and blindingly original styling, he just couldn't wrap his mind around it.

"So, what are you telling me?" (you've got to try to hear a piercing Eastern European accent and attitude in this questioning. Think of an apoplectic James Bond villain.) "You are telling me that this whiny, wheezing insect has a good voice?!"

"I didn't say he has a good voice."

"Oh, you didn't?"

"No I didn't"

"You didn't say he has a good voice?"

"No, I didn't say he has a good voice. I said he has a great voice."

At this point the veins started bulging out of his neck and forehead, and a poor innocent fellow worker rolled her eyes and stood clear as he proceeded to explicate the ways he wanted to rip my artistic intestines out and knit himself a noose out of them.

It was pretty fun.

The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn,
But it's not that way, I wasn't born to lose you.

It's not a frivolous distinction. Dylan's voice is peerlessly powerful, while not having anything to do with the smoothness and shine of Great Vocalists like Sinatra or Cole or Caruso. And the opera notion makes me think of Maria Callas, whom many would call the Best Female Singer of the Century. Yet her voice is not really the kind of 'beautiful' that is usually associated with operatic sopranos. A Great Voice, not a good one.

As for the movie, the critics' responses have been predictibly fervent, pro and con, at least if the tiny bit of reading I've done is any indication. Once again, I'm staggered at how many people miss the point. I'm tempted to tear into one particular critic, but that's always a downward spiral and a half. Plus, I try (at least here) to sort of follow the Mother's Dictum "If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

Yeah, I don't always succeed on that score.

The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town

To the people who wonder why a filmmaker would make a 'biopic' that doesn't try to pin down and explain its subject, I say that a biopic is not what Haynes was making. To those who ask why said subject doesn't clearly define his 'character' for your benefit, I suggest that to some artists there is little that is more boring than trying to explain oneself. Much more fun to tweak some expectations, stir things up, and create. Hey, it's almost 400 years later and people are still trying to figure out who Shakespeare was.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.

And, to the nameless clueless critic: that puke you've got on your chest? I think it's Aristotle's. You may want to clean that up.

It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

And as with anything, you can't make people get it.

The film spurred at least one enthusiast to, um, back up some data for a friend:

Could write more on this subject, but I've subjected you to enough for now...

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