Sunday, October 07, 2007

Refraction, not consolidation

The New York Times Magazine profiled Todd Haynes and his current movie project about Bob Dylan. The movie's called "I'm Not There," and it sounds very weird, as in very weird good. Dylan is fractured into six or seven different types, played by different actors. It sounds like a movie that's trying to be true to the creative process, or at least that's what it intends.

Which is a sight better than, say, the dreadful Shakespeare in Love, which showed us "Shakespeare at work," i.e., an actor playing Shakespeare sitting at a desk and writing, or an actor playing Shakespeare depicting a scene dependent entirely upon the imagination of the screen writers and producers as though it were some kind of actual fact. I have no quarrel with fictional representations. I do have a problem with the representational house of mirrors being presented as though it could approximate "facts" (without a trace of irony). Sure, defining someone else's creative process is going to be a fraught process, but why even try it with Shakespeare, on which there is so little to go on anyway? And why is that interesting?

I was seven or eight months pregnant when I saw the movie, sitting in the middle of a theatre row, and just dying to get up and haul my extra large abdomen out of there--I remember having to try to make my mind go blank, the movie was so awful. Shakespeare has simply disappeared into his work: there is no process to track, not any longer. My own personal feeling is that Shakespeare the man no longer exists, and it doesn't matter.

Dylan is something of a different matter, as process is much more of the surface and self-conscious with him anyway. A well-documented, contemporary figure: why not explore the traces of his process, and, at the same time, meditate on identity?

This was, according to the Times, Haynes' pitch to Dylan:

"'I is another.' [Rimbaud] 'He created a new identity every step of the way in order to create identity.' [Anthony Scaduto on Dylan] If a film were to exist in which the breadth and flux of a creative life could be experienced, a film that could open up as oppose to consolidating what we think we already know walking in, it could never be within the tidy arc of a master narrative. The structure of such a film would have to be a fractured one, with numerous openings and a multitude of voices, with its prime strategy being one of refraction, not condensation. Imagine a film splintered between seven separate faces -- old men, young men, women, children -- each standing in for spaces in a single life."

Sounds fascinating. Refraction and not condensation to open up what we think we know going in. Yet the ending of a poem seeks to consolidate, or am I wrong? I've tried to make poems refract, instead of consolidate. How to end is always a problem for an art form that enacts itself by moving across and down a page. Film must move along a plane of time, but images allow it to move in and out along the line as well, or, by illusion, disrupt the linear aspect of a movie unfolding.

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