Monthly Archives: November 2007

I’m Not There forces Breihan to throw his hands in the air. Although he’s certainly right that in Haynes’ film the music enforces the Dylan mythos instead of being an end in itself, I’m not sure you can dismiss Dylan’s own propensity for allying himself with history – for wanting to merge with history. I’m Not There acknowledges, implicitly, that “Bob Dylan” is an empty cavern. That’s why five of the film’s six secret sharers balk at becoming what his critics and admirers want – and why most of his great work (especially his most recent work) attains the glazed anonymity of those blues idioms he reveres. The performance of Marcus Carl Franklin as the round-faced folkie uncorks a number of ironies, however. This version of Dylan is so full of brio – so devoted to becoming part of a folk history he already understands better than men much older and more proficient – that there’s no way we can accept his anonymity. I can think of no other reason why the audience endures the longeurs of the Richard Gere scenes than Haynes’ wanting to show how aesthetic ambition eventually collapses into a need to vanish (the pine trees in the forest where the Gere character lives project more charisma).

I’ve admitted many times that I rarely listen to “classic” Dylan (for old time’s sake I threw on Bringing It All Back Home while showering this morning, my first real listen in seven years, I think. I’ve nothing to say except I’d forgotten the fragility of “She Belongs To Me,” at once an incomplete summation and exactly as long as it needs to be). But often I’ll thrown on minor Dylan like New Morning, Planet Waves, or my beloved Empire Burlesque, the latter of which exerts an undying fascination. I love how the intimations of apocalypse, references to Madame Butterfly and the Last Supper, and those herky-jerkily enunciated attempts at witticisms are so at odds with Arthur Baker’s trendy production; while Dylan’s reminding people that a vast culture exists in which high and low intermingle, Baker’s fretting about how to turn “Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love?)” into a dance chart top ten like his remix of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” I wish Todd Haynes had cast Rupert Everett or somebody as the Disco Dylan, sporting a silver sports jacket, wailing the Breakout-era Pointer Sisters number “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” as a reminder that any movie examining an artist’s mythos should look at its grisliest aspects (to be fair, Haynes shoots Christian Bale, clad in polyester, re-enacting Born Again Dylan in a pretty good rendition of Saved‘s “Pressing On”). Would that Haynes have written a scene with Antonio Banderas playing the mustachioed Dylan of “Love & Theft.”

I admire Marcello Carlin because he writes posts as if they were paid magazine articles. Then, on the couple of occasions when as an editor I solicited material from him, he delights me with submissions that suffers no loss of concentration. Since I know little about his private life, I can only guess at the horrors he endured; but I’m happy he’s got a reason to be optimistic, and hope it’s not churlish of me to admit that I hope he still writes. If not, I hope he stays in touch –he was always someone I wanted to know.

Here’s my favorite recent post, searching and complete enough to prevent me from publishing my own thoughts on what it’s one of the year’s best albums.

Kelly McDonald’s delicately shaded pathos lets the air into the vacuum chamber of the Coens’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men. By filming most of McDonald’s last scene off-camera, they actually improve on the novel; sketching a character’s loss of dignity works best on the page, without the camera’s literalizing tendencies. I also liked how McDonald and Javier Bardem’s performances matched up in their only scene together. Although he’s the executioner, he exudes what Jorge Luis Borges, in a short story titled “Death and the Compass” that’s as meticulously composed as No Country For Old Men but devastating in subtle ways that the film and book are not, called “an impersonal — almost anonymous — sadness.” Bardem and McDonald’s muted duet is more eloquent than Tommy Lee Jones’ well-delivered but literary ruminations on how the times they are a-changin’.

Lily Bart killed herself! According to a Charles McGrath story in today’s New York Times, a letter written by Edith Wharton to Dr. Francis Kinnicutt, “a well-known society doctor who specialized in the mental ailments of the well-to-do,” supposedly reveals that Wharton planned on doing away with the heroine of her second and best novel The House of Mirth after all. The coldness with which she contemplates dispatching Lily sounds just like classic Wharton (“I have a heroine to get rid of, and want some points on the best way of disposing of her”); but even if it weren’t, I don’t see why we would give the writer final word anyway. In literature, intentions rarely produce results. Besides, the ending is clear to me. As Roxanna Robinson points out: “If [Lily] doesn’t take action here, if her death occurs by chance (or if Anna Karenina had fallen under the wheels by mistake), the tragedy is drained of much of its power.”

I reviewed the audiobook here.