more recent releases!

What to say about I’m Not There (2007), Todd Haynes’s latest and one of the most acclaimed films of the year? I was immediately bowled over by its technical virtuosity, dazzled that Haynes dare deconstruct a single person by rolling together bits of autobiography, glimpses of history, a fair bit of exaggeration, and a very generous dose of unabashed fiction into six different characters searching for a whole, all in the hope (against hope) that it all coalesces into some kind of overarching statement or emotional truth about one of the most iconic individuals of the 20th century. And while I can’t deny that at moments it seems—it feels—like Haynes has somehow reached this goal, for all the visual pyrotechnics, the mind-whirling shifts in time, setting and characters, I can’t help but feel there’s something essentially lifeless about the film at its center, that for all the vitality on display by a formidable assemblage of acting talent they’re never really granted the time or room to breath and humanize the symbols, concepts and conceits that they’re representing. Yes, it’s admirable that Haynes has refused to dish up another sappy biopic (we’ve been spoonfed plenty of those), but what exactly have we been served? A biopic lacking a central human being?

That said, I also can’t deny that in the film’s last minutes, where the real Bob Dylan (before then a ghostly, unnamed presence hovering over the film) is finally given a moment to appear as himself I was moved, and much to my surprise, found myself fighting tears. The problem is, I’m not sure if it was because of everything I had seen unfold before had led up to that moment, or if Bob Dylan—the artist, the icon, the unknown person, the myth—is simply most eloquent when speaking (or rather, singing) on his own, allowed to embody his own mysteriousness. Or maybe, in the final moments, we’re finally given a glimpse at a real human being. And that simple fact, in retrospect, makes all the difference.

It’s really a shame that The Golden Compass (2007) isn’t a bit better than it is—everything that’s there is certainly good, but at the same time it’s also painfully obvious that there was the potential for greatness and yet it never comes even close to reaching that point… So many elements are in place—Daniel Craig (Oxford academia has never seemed so smokin’ hot), an appropriately icy Nicole Kidman, a cute but not obnoxious child lead, and from all indications some fantastic source material (I’ve never read Pullman’s stories, but likely will now). But director Christopher Weitz seems woefully out of his range here, and the film distinctly lacks a sense of epic sweep—often it seems intent on dispensing endless exposition, frantically rushing to introduce each new location and character at a staccato pace. It could have used another hour at least, crucial time to over all the little details and nuances of this alternate world this film desperately tries to create. One hates to invoke the name of Peter Jackson, but here he is: he towers over this film (just like all of the other unfortunate fantasy pseudo-epics that have sprung up in his wake), and even if I happened to like The Golden Compass more than Narnia, Eragon and the like, one can never get past the glaring fact that Jackson’s masterpiece renders this film anemic, at best mere imitation. Still, I don’t think it deserved the chilly indifference the American public moralistically heaped upon it, and a part of me mourns that its likely we won’t see the follow-up installments. Especially since this film was setting up Craig’s professor for a much more prominent role in the ensuing films

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2 thoughts on “more recent releases!

  1. I saw I’m Not There at TIFF and I think you’re spot on – it’s rich and heavy on ideas/textures, but like Nathaniel (Film Experience) says, it plays more like a dissertation than a film. And while I’m all for Big Ideas and risky ventures and refusing to spoon-feed your audience, the film doesn’t give its characters and themes a lot of space to breathe. It didn’t help that I don’t know much about Dylan, so I felt a little bit like I was floundering in the deep end of the pool.

    That said, I still think it’s a genius work – it will just need time and revisiting to “open up”. I wonder when the DVD will be released…

    The Golden Compass was better than I expected (those initial reports had me expecting an utterly inept adaptation), but that’s still not saying much. Like you said, the lurching stop-and-go narrative is exhausting, and it’s all very “been there, done that” in terms of the overdone fantasy genre.

    The “anti-Christian” mud-slinging prior to the film’s release was RIDICULOUS; the film is so neutered of its critical subtext that I could barely detect Pullman’s voice throughout the whole thing.

  2. A dissertation is actually a good way of describing the film… and I’m all for “idea” films–Last Year at Marienbad is one of my favorite films, for heaven’s sake! But with a film like Marienbad, even with all of its narrative experimentation and lack of human-like characters still touches me on a very emotional level. And that’s what I ultimately found lacking with Haynes’ film.

    Agree with all your points regarding The Golden Compass; that said, it still made me want to read the books.

    -jesse

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