Friday, January 22, 2010

521 - You Aught to Know - 44-46

All films listed: 44-46, 15 points each

I'm Not There, Todd Haynes, 2007

I didn’t know that people were still making epics until I saw this film. Whereas Todd Haynes’ interesting yet problematic film Velvet Goldmine charted a mythical figure through a vast symbolic voyage, it did not quite follow that hero through the entirety of the Cambellian cycle.

I’m Not There, on the other hand, reached Homeric perfection of artistry. While the hero of Bob Dylan does not carry the same cultural weight of Homer’s Odysseus, Haynes rightly understands that our fragmented culture does not have the same central cultural motifs that were once understood in ancient times. Therefore, he does not simply offer us a singular Bob Dylan, but several different characters, played by different people, who represent different aspects of the character, as he might be seen by different audiences. There is a James Dean aspect to Heath Ledger’s representation, an Arthur Rimbaud aspect to Whishaw’s performance, a Hollywood western aspect to Gere’s portrayal, a creepy dementia to Christian Bale’s shadowing and a jovial cock-sure quality to the youthful Marcus Carl Franklin’s embodiment. Cate Blanchett, the mid-sixties Dylan known all-too-well, and in great detail, by Pennebaker’s documentary footage, enjoys a pleasurable tight-rope walk of parodistic impersonation and devoted channeling.

If you know the Dylan story, there is an evident biographical path that the film takes through his various professional experiences. If you don’t, however (and I try very had to watch the film as though I don’t, despite the fact that I am an ardent Dylan fan), the film associates a disparate array of varying characters to arrive at one emotional climax at the end of the film via cross-cutting. This is done masterfully by Haynes, who has already gained authority as a dramatically humorous period painter in the aforementioned Velvet Goldmine as well as the marvelous Far From Heaven. Accentuated by a host of cinematic references (note the naming of Bale’s character “Jack Rollins”—well known as a producer of Woody Allen work) as well as cultural ones (note Kim Gordon’s cameo as a folk musician), the film is, like No Direction Home, a movie about cultural shifts as much as it is about one character. The score and soundtrack, composed of Dylan tunes performed by a wide array of notable rock musicans (Tom Verlaine, Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, etc.) only intensify the vastness of Hayne’s allusive consciousness.

For cinematic evidence of this allusive quality, watch the scene where Gere’s Billy the Kid Dylan has a vision as he looks to the horizon, and we hear “All Along the Watchtower” playing in the distance, before the scene begins to be connected to shots of Vietnam combat, as well as a tumultuous painting by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character, bringing in issues of aesthetics in modern art, as well. Dylan never played Woodstock, but Jimmy Hendrix did, and played one of Dylan’s songs in his absence. Dylan was reclusive during that period, recuperating after having survived a spill on a motorcycle. Dylan had recently released a troubadour record called “John Wesley Harding,” a return to rural folksong (the record on which “All Along the Watchtower” appeared) and would soon record a soundtrack for a film called Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Maybe you don’t need to be a Dylan fan to love this film, but I had to give a sense of the rich myriad of reference that exists just beneath the film’s already seemingly perfect veneer. And, like an epic poem, which would have been chanted in musical verse, song carries the narrative throughout this symbolical universe. - Aaron McNally

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Peter Weir, 2003

This film is among the most underrated in history. Extraordinary attention to historical and technical detail and flawless acting puts you in the life of a sailor on a battleship in the worlds strongest naval force during the Napoleonic wars. I suppose people went to this film expecting the kind of epic battle sequences they saw in the "Lord of the Ring" series. Perhaps people hoped for dialog that is basically the same as a modern day conversation minus any slang and any mention of technology, perhaps also with a bit of a romance story thrown in to keep it interesting. Instead they got a bunch of scruffy, unwashed men singing sea-chanteys, working on the ship, living and dying together, speaking with authentic English accents using language appropriate to the setting, and only two battles, neither of which could be called "epic". Apparently few noticed the very realistic problem situations, the emotional relationship between the characters, and the meticulous recreation of the military and maritime technology of that era. - Ramin Honary

Seabiscuit, Gary Ross, 2003

You can’t say enough about the film. If I could steal all the money made from Spider-Man, another Tobey Maguire movie, I’d give it to Gary Ross, the director of Seabiscuit. I always say it’s Days of Thunder with horses. It’s a very touching movie about the depression, and I guess human spirit, or horse spirit. - Eric Mohling

Previously on You Aught to Know: Ramin Honary

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