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The Real Bob Dylan

The Real Bob Dylan (photo)

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Watch the world premiere of the latest Bob Dylan music video, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” exclusively at

    “Qui êtes-vous, Monsieur Bob Dylan?”

       –Jean-Pierre Léaud, in “Masculin, féminine”

Who are you, Mr. Bob Dylan? Less than two years ago, Dylanologists had a field day with “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ smarty-pants hallucination evoking the freewheelin’ singer-songwriter’s iconic persona, unknowable as he perpetually reinvents himself. But rock ‘n’ roll’s poet laureate already had a history with film, both appearing onscreen and being portrayed by other actors. In honor of Dylan’s tough-bird, rollicking new record “Together Through Life,” I’m bringing it all back home with a re-evaluation of who fares better on film: Dylan himself, or his imposters?

Dylan as himself, “Dont Look Back” (1967) vs. Cate Blanchett as Jude, “I’m Not There” (2007)

Nobody could resist this most obvious of aesthetic match-ups, a battle between the two most sophisticated, evocative, self-mythologizing portraits of Dylan that have so far been laid to celluloid. D.A. Pennebaker’s vérité landmark trails you-know-who on his ’65 British tour, an all-access pass uncovering the great bard as a prickly, petty, cynical egomaniac who bullshits journalists, toys with Donovan and generally proves to be a guarded genius at his peak. As a gender-bent dead ringer, Blanchett’s patronizing “Dont Look Back”-era hipster, one of six Dylan avatars in Haynes’ prismatic curio, won the actress a Spirit Award. But was her entertaining transformation truly audacious, or did she get away with accolades for what two-bit comedians regularly do on open-mic night? Even if the question were tossed, her role couldn’t exist if Dylan hadn’t first been immortalized with a few dropped cue cards.

Winner: Real Bob Dylan

05122009_PatVsFatGirl.jpgDylan as Alias, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973) vs. Hayden Christensen as The Musician, “Factory Girl” (2006)

Sam Peckinpah’s meditative western saga and George Hickenlooper’s trashy biopic on Edie Sedgwick both star celebrities as unreliable distillations of iconic heroes. Dylan wrote his first score for the former, then saddled up in a battered top hat as the real-life sidekick to Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson), winning the outlaw’s respect by throwing a knife in a dude’s neck and carrying, while on horseback, a live turkey he’d snagged for dinner. Comparably limp and miscast, Christensen’s pseudo-Dylan is too boy-band pretty by half, affects an uninspired drawl, and had to be named Billy Quinn after Dylan’s lawyers sued (though the character is credited as “The Musician”). Even if he and co-star Sienna Miller’s sex scenes were rumored to be unsimulated, that’s far more exciting to hear than actually watching Christensen as he affects a featherweight strut or take motorcycle rides in the countryside.

Winner: Real Bob Dylan

05122009MaskedVsTunnel.jpgDylan as Jack Fate, “Masked and Anonymous” (2003) vs. Edward D. Markley as Bob Dylan, “Tunnel Vision” (1976)

The self-aware caricatures. Under the name Rene Fontaine, “Borat” director Larry Charles shares writing credit with Dylan (as Sergei Petrov) on their confounding, convoluted allegory about a pre-apocalyptic, contemporary America wracked by endless civil war. Has-been music legend Jack Fate, pulled out of prison to play a benefit concert, embodies Dylan’s mythos as a po-mo cipher (he could be the seventh character in “I’m Not There”) in a bizarre, bleak world of ideological greyness; it’s “Idiocracy” as retooled by angry conspiracy theorists. Dylan mostly sings, stares dead-eyed or half-listens to strangers preaching his own words back to him, but you have to admire his dedication to vanity. Sadly less funny, the déclassé sketch comedy flick “Tunnel Vision” (with Chevy Chase, John Candy and Al Franken) doesn’t hold up well. In a fake commercial for the “Western Unyon Marijuanagram,” spokesman and famed session musician Leon Russell (J. Michael Popovich) pitches “a unique gift idea for Valentine’s Day this year.” Russell pops a joint between his lips, and Markley’s scruffy, silent Bob leans into the frame for only a blip to provide a light and glower at the camera behind sunglasses.

Winner: Real Bob Dylan

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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