Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Politics of Performance/ I"I'm Not There"

Saw Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" last night. Just stunning. Too rich to even adequately address its many dimensions and evocations, so any discussion of it will necessarily leave something out/feel inadequate. But I think I can fairly say this: it is, above all, " about" performance--on a number of levels, which means the meaning of performance itself is at issue. In what way performance and Dylan, performing Dylan, Dylan as performer, are unpacked and fragmented and stitched together through the various narratives and the characters is a complicated question, and I don't really have the capacity to deal with it adequately (I need to see it again to do that any real justice). Yet I think I can at least say that the various dynamics and themes that circle around and through the film: identity/authenticity/politics/cultural, temporal, musical, and visual frames as they overlap or are mutually structured can be seen through the prism of performativity. (I'll have to define the term at some point, I know.)

For example, as you're experiencing "Dylan" being performed and are constantly aware of the shifts in names, locations, genders, time periods, etc., the differing acting styles become ever more apparent and you start to perhaps unconsciously think: is this particular performance any "good" or "right" or close to the "original; What is this performative moment going to teach us or give us in terms of our desire to know (more than the performer) Dylan? What does it even mean to expect that a performance is "adequate"? So Christian Bale pulls off his strikingly tongue in cheek, ironic, funny yet somehow, at the same time, totally moving and endearing performances as both early folkie and as sad Christian preacher Dylan (the latter complete with bad polyester suit and queer molded jewfro) precisely because he makes you aware of it *as* his performance of Dylan's performances and of what perhaps Dylan himself might have thought a musician should sound or look or feel or be or believe (and he gives you this layering even tho he doesn't have a direct line in the entire movie, I don't think. It's all musical performances.) It's like the movie "performs" a Bulterian "citation-chain" of musical performance and characterological references, which is totally dizzying and amazing and I actually would have like to have seen more Bale and a tad less Blanchett because his work was equally as fascinating and evocative and has gotten far less attention by the media than it deserves. Yes, Blanchett was fantastic, but it did seem to be a concession to popular audiences that her section dominates most of the latter half of the film. (As a side note, one thing the film's definitely fascinated with in the Blanchett section is Dylan's hair--it's practically a character in its own right as Haynes does a spot on directorial appropriation or "performance" or citation of Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, when Dylan was, indeed, really a hottie. The main reason I've seen that film like 20 times. Tho I was a little pissed that Haynes didn't take the opportunity to do something w/ the Dylan/Baez dynamic in that part).

So, yeah, If you start to compare the acting performances you get a range--naturalistic, you might call it, from Heath Ledger (and Charlotte Gainsbourg); campy and ironic yet completely driven in Bale; method channeling to the nth degree in Blanchett; sincere and goofily sweet in Gere. And then there's the guy who played the Rimbaud character and the young black kid who plays Woody Guthrie/Dylan, or even Julianne Moore's performance, which, like Bale's, is both a weirdly spot on and a campy spoof of an older Joan Baez, and which is so doubly, delightfully mean-spirited. And then some of the time we get "failed" or surface-y attempts at sticking to character or a tendency to ham it up a bit with the over-dramatic, corny acting style-- kind of like in the tradition of Warhol's "bad acting" movies--and at other times we get acting at its most depth oriented. "Acting the part" of Dylan takes on so many dimensions and performance itself becomes so unstable that, at various moments, whether Dylan is either truly "not there" (Gere and Ledger) or so hyper-present it verges on uncanny (Blanchett), or so silly it's laughable (Bale), performance as identity is taken to a whole other level of complexity. (I would expect if I were reading this that Judith Butler was going to come up at some point, right? Sorry tho-- sadly or thankfully, depending on how you feel--no Butler quotes will be forthcoming....)

Next I want to talk about the politics of anachronisms in queer cinema, the film's musical/visual language, and directing as a kind of homage-like appropriational performance. More later... maybe....

Here's Haynes on Blanchett "channeling" Dylan an her embodied approach and Dylan's own "adrogyny":

1 comment:

jpb said...

Great write-up. I haven't seen the film yet, but your take on it makes me want to see it more than almost anything else I've read on it to date.