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Film still from I’m Not There, dir: Todd Haynes, dp: Edward Lachman


Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There isn’t “photography” in any strict sense, but (as evidenced by these stills) the 2007 film is a gorgeous work of art: intellectually provocative, hugely ambitious, moving, and frequently hilarious. But there’s no point in trying to encapsulate my thoughts on Hayne’s film here: I just added “Beyond the Six-Actor Conceit: Why I’m Not There Matters,” a feature I originally wrote for the Portland Mercury, to That’s a Negative’s Selected Writings page.

It is, I strongly feel after only one viewing, one of the smartest, most innovative, and beautiful films of this era. It’s as if Haynes has taken full ownership of the varied approaches to filmmaking that he’s cultivated since Superstar, and orchestrated them into a densely hypnotic tapestry, where styles and signatures melt into a continuous spectrum.

I’m Not There synthesizes cues from Italian neorealism and surrealism, Richard Lester’s Beatles films, cinéma vérité, Wong Kar Wai’s early sensual experiments with celluloid manipulation and debasement, Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil, Douglas Sirk’s tearjerkers, contemporary “talking head” documentaries, and other innovations that feel entirely new. Haynes’ cinematic deconstructions of Dylan songs, like the “Ballad of a Thin Man” interlude, constitute unforgettable and mesmerizing short films unto themselves. Somehow, this all coheres into a fantastic, complex vision that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, although it shares a creative kinship with the best films of Gus Van Sant, Peter Greenaway, and Chantal Akerman.

Film still from I’m Not There, dir: Todd Haynes, dp: Edward Lachman


Film still from I’m Not There, dir: Todd Haynes, dp: Edward Lachman


(To read more about cinematographer Edward Lachman, check out “Deconstructing Bob Dylan. Film stills taken from the Times‘ insightful “This is Not a Bob Dylan Movie.” )

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5 Comments

  1. One question then: is a film-still a photograph?

    Best, Sean.

  2. Yes, certainly. But if that’s a retort to my opening sentence, it falls short, as I’m Not There isn’t a film still. Nor is it merely a sequence of a few thousand photographs; that definition ignores the audio component of filmmaking, which you certainly wouldn’t want to do with I’m Not There. Cameras and film are integral parts of what Haynes does, obviously, but I stand by my original assertion that I’m Not There isn’t a work of photography in any strict sense. No more than Crewdson’s photographs are movies.

  3. Nice. Great blog!

  4. Chas, it was not a retort to your opening sentence in the way you think: I was not taking issue with what you had wrote. The question was posed more generally.

    For instance, many film stills are framed as actual photographs (the DVD of Memento is one good example; the integral Polaroid lends itself to this very well because of the distinct border). And, of course, photographs are articulated as film stills (Cindy Sherman is the most obvious example). And then you have the function of photographs in films, or films of photographs, (almost: La Jetée). Your post made me think of all these things all at once. And this is why I visit your site. It makes me think.

    Best, Sean.

  5. Ha, sorry Sean! You lay out this really nice reason for visiting my site after I hop on the quick defensive. I didn’t spot your URL as I was rushing out the door this morning, and thought somebody was trying to insinuate that I had made an error by nitpicking semantics. My apologies. Now, as I shove off to prepare dinner, I’ll think of the very valid questions you asked, and reconsider my blogging etiquette. Thanks, Sean.

    PS: Readers are highly encouraged to check out http://pentimento.squarespace.com/journal/
    AKA the brainiest Polaroid site in the history of the world, I’d wager.


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