Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis film posterSynopsis

Starring Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a ‘folk singer’ who has a stack of unsold albums, and will not surrender his integrity to go commercial, but then he sings an absurd pop song for money.  His girlfriend is played by Carey Mulligan, she may or may not be pregnant by him, can he afford the abortion?  Davis plays in coffee bars in Greenwich and goes off to Chicago to further his artistic ambitions, travelling there with John Goodman.  He auditions for Murray Abrahams who rejects him.  Davis meets his father and thinks of joining the merchant navy.  He returns to New York and tries to make it again as he insults other acts and gets beaten up for it.


This is set in 1961 Greenwich Village when ‘folk music’ became a middle class fad for ernest young Americans and Brits.  Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger inspired the young to political protest (this film was released shortly after Seeger’s death).  The young Bob Dylan appears at the end of the film.  I remember the fuss about Dylan’s supposed betrayal of folk ideals when that culture was full of people trying to make money and achieve stardom.  Dylan tried that phase and then went electric, writing songs that were hilarious pranks played on gullible would be intellectuals, he betrayed nothing.  His crime was to be more successful than the rest.  Llewyn Davis talks about integrity, but the folk scene for him is merely a self inflicted religion of the nobility of failure and poverty.  He poses like a self pitying martyr through a New York lovingly created to remind us of the cover of Dylan’s Free Wheelin album.

The colours are quite muted as in other Coen films and there is the vastness of the American landscape.  This film shares with Nebraska and Orange County an acknowledgement of the great emptiness of the mid west and its effect on the mind.  On the journey from New York to Chicago the landscape is so bleak it’s like the barest sketch for an Edward Hopper painting.  John Goodman plays the Albert Grossman character who is contemptuously cynical of Davis’ artistic aspirations.  He passes out in the car and Llewyn leaves him there, his beatnik driver is picked up by the police.  This is the reality of the Kerouac scene, the soul destroying drabness of a wasted industrial landscape.

Davis himself is a prick, he self loathingly staggers around thinking that his brutal frankness is a fearless integrity stripping away illusion, rather than a licence to inflict needless self regarding cruelty.  Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play a couple, their folksy wholesomeness contrasting with Davis’ cynical arrogance.  Davis’ own songs are not all that wonderful, Murray Abrahams doesn’t think of him as a commercial prospect, so it makes Dylan’s own success from such an unpromising environment all the more surprising.

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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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I’m Not There

I'm Not There poster

Todd Haynes’ 2007 film about Bob Dylan is not a biopic, it’s a montage of portrayals through several actors.  Significantly, the only really good performance is from Cate Blanchette playing Dylan in his most controversial mid sixties phase.  The other performances highlight how average Dylan was outside the mid sixties, from fictitious hobo and Woody Guthrie wannabee parasite to mysogynistic rocker. The comparison of Dylan with Rimbaud is grandiloquently absurd.  Haynes is meticulous on period details, to the point of parody (see Far from Heaven), so the film is superb on period details of Dylan’s strummer-turned surreal rocker from ’64 to ’67.

In parts, Blanchette’s performance eerily replicates the tetchy prima donna of the 1965 Don’t Look Back film, and we get accurate observations on the tacky hedonism of the Warhol period.  We also get Godard-type scenes where our hero follows a socialite to impress her with superstar nonsense.

The film cleverly guys the ’70s stovepipe-hatted cowboy mystic style, complete with surreal stereotypes from the Basement Tapes cover, poses courtesy of Jesse James, rock star as outlaw hero.

Dylan has not had a happy relationship with cinema .  His own appearances have been lamentable.  Don’t Look Back showed how amphetamined  middle brow chatter can cover for vacuity, and of his ’70s and’80s film appearances the less said the better.  The Edie Sedgwick film does not flatter either.

As for the man himself, Dylan’s supposed martyrdom by fame and easy success reminds me of that Peter Cooke joke about Greta Garbo disregardedly wandering down an empty street shouting ‘I want to be alone’ through a megaphone.  He backed into the limelight manufacturing a career out of being an ‘enigma’, not only does he complain when people then wonder what sort of enigma he is, he doesn’t realise it’s something the rest of us manage to be, without trying.  As for which of the Bob Dylan’s is the real one, does anyone really care?  The film shows us, albeit inadvertently, how overrated Dylan could be, outside his talent for media manipulation and impressing people with obscure phraseology wrapped in disparate imagery in songs lacking narrative development.  This film tells us a lot about Todd Haynes, like Oliver Stone he is obviously obsessed with the myths of the ’60s and ’70s and sees Dylan’s career as an excuse to raid the cliche wardrobe.  There is temporal cross cutting which does not cohere into a recognisable biography which was undoubtedly Haynes’s intention.  Perhaps he wanted the film to be an analogy of a Dylan song or story, driven by image rather than narrative.  There are justly cruel observations on Dylan’s manager, on Warhol groupies, on pampered Edie Sedgwick and Francoise Hardy types, on Ginsberg, and the’50s.  Haynes maybe parodying the rock biopics served with the usual stereotypes of Kennedy, Vietnam, the moon landings etc, just in case we don’t get what the 60’s was all about.

Haynes gives the Cate Blanchette persona an easy ride allowing his bathetic remarks  to stand unchallenged  and of course anybody not in with the Dylan psyches private jokes is nowhere. Haynes is also good on the fawning establishment’s pathetic attempts to be hip and to ride his bandwagon.

Perhaps Haynes is satirising aspects of the Dylan myth, but isn’t he also augmenting it?  It reminds me of those interviewers who would like to talk to Dylan but retreat into a distanced cool because afraid of a rebuff.  Anybody coming to Dylan for the first time through this film might wonder if they are being manipulated and fooled.  Haynes has made a clever film which manages to lionise and lampoon Dylan as it’s ultimately forgiving of his faults.  A patchily good film about an unsympathetic subject.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Film Reviews, Independent films


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