My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
In both films, the central figure is a cowboy, not in the literal sense of a man on horseback who herds cattle, but in the popular persona of the rough-hewn individual very much his own person, even seeing himself as somewhat heroic. But in the end, he’s a lonely figure, laconic, iconoclast, easily misunderstood, carrying around soiled memories of sullied quests, and wearing them like a crown of thorns. He doesn’t relate to other people all that well, and love usually eludes him, except for brief periods of infatuation. And what he likes doing most is riding into the sunset, alone, to go fight his dragons by himself.
In “I’m Not There,” Director and writer Todd Haynes tries a creative approach to mockumentary: divide Bob Dylan’s character into six pieces, each of whom would offer a different kind of glimpse into the enigmatic performer, from innocent young blues guitarist to iconic poet to boundless artist to angry interviewee to faded, jaded caricature of himself---and who would want to think of themselves as so androgynous that one of their representations could successfully be a woman? (Cate Blanchett joins Hilary Swank and Gwyneth Paltrow in the risky acting venture of glamorous young woman gone gender-bending.) But sometimes trying so hard to be creative really only makes things strained and myopic. There’s no linear story here. We jump around time periods, we jump between the six different personae, we jump from concert to interview to nonsensical vignette like an ostrich running through the set, and much of the dialogue seems to be in code---perhaps referencing words from songs that only the headiest aficionado would recognize. Though we are impressed with the life-force of this unique character that apparently no one person can even represent, much less capture, in the end, it’s too long, and it’s too dull. The trouble with presenting the life of an apparent nihilist is that…well, nothing really happens.
Not so with “Beowulf.” Here, our hero is the mythical Danish warrior (voiced by Ray Winstone) of 500 A.D., who battles the dragon Grendel (Crispin Glover), and then the dragon’s mother (Angelina Jolie) whose wiles are even more ferocious. The “motion capture” technology will appeal to some viewers more than others---the main characters do indeed look like themselves, but in waxen caricature, devoid of wrinkle lines, moles, tattoos, or blotches, and moving in a kind of an awkward jerkiness that more approximates the animation of a previous generation. And yet, the old king Hrothgar still feels like Anthony Hopkins, and his chief advisor Unferth still feels like John Malkovich. Perhaps it’s because of the representation of an earlier era, but there seems to be a pervasive chauvinism here. The male characters are brave, strong, purpose-driven, aggressive, and frequently forced to fight, and when given the opportunity to relax, are prone to drunken orgies. The females are beautiful and adoring when they are young, and sarcastic or devious when they are older. They may temporarily adorn the scenery, but the epic struggles are not really about them. As for the dragon-slaying, you could compare with David and Goliath, or even David and Absalom. But the Beowulf saga is relatively untapped by mainstream
Questions For Discussion:
1) How many songs of Bob Dylan can you name?
2) How much do you know about the Beowulf saga?
3) What do you expect from a leader?
4) When are you disappointed in a leader?
5) If you could divide your personality into six segments, what would they be?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church,