I should preface this review by saying I have never been much of a Bob Dylan fan. Or expert. In fact, I had to Wikipedia Dylan after both the first time I saw I’m Not There and before Saturday’s screening just so that I could pretend I knew what I was talking about (and what was going on). But I shouldn’t have bothered; both I’m Not There and Saturday night’s Cornell Cinema screening of the film and talk with Todd Haynes were basically Bob Dylan (and music/experimental film/random crazy cultural theory) 101, with Haynes, film critic J. Hoberman and random audience members serving as lecturers.
Seriously, in the metaphor I’m trying to make it was the best class ever — even if it was on a Saturday night.
I’m Not There — a film almost impossible to describe, but which is basically a breakdown of all the different “identities” Dylan took on over time and told in a non-linear narrative format — is my favorite movie-going experience this year. Now, there are a lot of Dylan fan(atics) who didn’t like the film, and two of the reasons I did were not directly Dylan-related — it was one of the most visually beautiful and conceptually fascinating films I have seen in a long time. But at the same time, the movie is loaded with Dylan references tucked into obscure corners I’m sure even moderate Dylan lovers wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. I think the really terrific aspect of the film is that it’s made in such a way that a range of Dylan fans — from amateurs like myself to what Haynes endearingly categorized as “Dylanologists” — can appreciate it. There is something to grasp and to love; for me, it was the cinematography and acting; for the Dylanologists, the movie is a puzzle to unpack. This was apparent at Saturday night’s showing, where the delighted audience members were constantly giggling and applauding at moments while I clearly had no idea what was going on.
After the film, Haynes and Hoberman sat on stage for a live interview. My Dad always says that you never should let two huge music fans into the same room with each other, and especially not Dylan fans, because otherwise you will never leave. This was clearly the case Saturday night, but the discussion — which ranged from how Haynes conceptualized the film to an extremely detailed debate over music and Dylan himself. I won’t bog you down with an entire transcript (which you can view on cinema.cornell.edu), but, needless to say, I sat there simultaneously wishing that one day I could be as cool and talented as Haynes and ogling the Dylan fan(atics) who kept interjecting answers to cultural references when Haynes wasn’t quick enough to answer. Just two gems: at one point, Haynes and Hoberman couldn’t remember where Jack Kerouac’s grave was, at which point Haynes gestured to the audience as if to say, “Hey, you answer this time;” about ten people responded in unison. (It’s Lowell, MA, in case you were wondering. Told you it was like class — except with movie popcorn.)
I actually don’t even think Todd Haynes would hold my Wikipedia-ing against me; at my favorite moment during the interview he was describing how he had to look up some of the references he made on google, just to remember where they came from for the DVD extras. “It was like a hall of mirrors thing … I was looking for the quote, and what kept appearing was “Todd Haynes, I’m Not There, 2007.”
Like I said: Best. Class. Ever.