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“I’m Not There”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Cate Blanchett in “I’m Not There,” Weinstein Company, 2007]

A man stands on a stage and plays ferocious, grinding blues. At first glance, the man is Bob Dylan, defiantly pounding away on his electric guitar despite the protestations of an angry crowd at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. On second glance, the man isn’t Bob Dylan at all; the man, in fact, isn’t even a man. It’s Cate Blanchett as “Jude Quinn” in an incredibly lifelike simulacrum of the Manchester show in Todd Haynes’ Dylan deconstruction “I’m Not There.” There’s a lot of that in the movie, scenes of eerie familiarity, still photos or album covers brought to life. If you’re the type of moviegoer (and Dylanaholic) who enjoys scouring a frame for in-jokes and references, this movie is your dream come true.

Blanchett’s Jude isn’t the only Dylan on hand, though — there are five more, played by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin, each representing a different period of Dylan’s career or side of his personality. Though we know these six characters are different faces of one die, these guys — and yes, Cate’s, playing a guy — look and act like totally different people. Some — like Whishaw’s Arthur — aren’t even musicians. One (Franklin’s Woody) isn’t even the same race as the rest; he’s sort of a straight-faced version of the old Steve Martin gag “I was born a poor black child.” The six Bobs rarely intermingle, and their stories don’t even approach something resembling individual narratives. Instead, “I’m Not There” is an accumulation of character sketches and performances by Dylans, both real and imagined, and an all-star roster of cover artists (including Stephen Malkmus, Antony & the Johnsons, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and a particularly feisty Richie Havens).

The immediate reaction to all these different Dylans is that their attitudes and appearances are so disparate that they simply cannot be reconciled as facets of the same person. That, I think, is Haynes’ fundamental point. Haynes the artist is examining Dylan the artist, and marveling at his contradictions. Just when his audience thought they understood him as a protest song writing folk hero, Dylan rejected all of that for the image of a disinterested hard rocker (a clash of styles that led to the infamous Manchester show). At the press conference after his film’s screening at the New York Film Festival, Haynes explained that Dylan’s freedom to reinvent himself was always more important to him than the freedom to simply be himself. Whether or not Dylan himself actually believes this (the fact that he authorized this film and permitted Haynes to use his music suggests that at the very least he doesn’t reject the notion), the idea comes through loud and clear in the film.

Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie communicates. Despite Haynes’ obvious affection for his subject, as well as his ample cinematic gifts, “I’m Not There” is a bit impregnable. To be fair, Dylan himself is a bit impregnable; his whole mystique, especially in that “Jude Quinn” period, was built on keeping himself at a remove from his answer-craving audience. Representing that idea on screen cuts off the amount of insights into Dylan at the notion, repeated often, that there can be no insights into Dylan. However appropriate that is to the man himself, it’s unsatisfying to the viewer. I walked out of the film with a deeper appreciation of Dylan’s catalogue, but with little additional knowledge about his life or his ideas. And if Haynes is, as Quinn claims to be, “just a storyteller,” the stories he’s telling aren’t particularly dynamic, especially those starring Gere and Ledger, who do not even attempt to “play” Dylan (in the way that Blanchett and Bale, with their accents and looks, do) and whose storylines feel a bit pointless.

Even as it dances between visual styles and color palettes (the Blanchett portions are Felliniesque black and white, the Ledger chapters are filled with rich greens, the Gere segments sooty and brown), there remains something inexplicably cold about “I’m Not There.” I deeply respect its intentions, admire both its filmmaker and its subject, but have very little affection for the finished product.

That famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert in Manchester has one of the most remarkable moments in the history of 20th century music. In between songs during his electric set, one member of the audience calls Dylan Judas. While tuning his guitar for the next number, Dylan responds: “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!” then turns to the band and orders “Play fucking loud!” before launching into a blistering rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Curiously, in the Haynes version, Dylan does not get his revenge or the last laugh. It’s like a cover version without the original’s passion or fire, and it occurs to me that that despite all the different angles the film shows of Dylan, that one, maybe the most important, is the thing “I’m Not There” is missing.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.