A concept only gets arthouse films so far

November 30, 2007|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

In recent years, arthouse cinema has developed its own version of the studio or network "high concept" - an idea for a movie or TV show that can be summarized in a phrase or sentence, such as "MTV cops" for Miami Vice. For Memento, it was "widower with short-term memory loss seeks wife's murderer." For Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it was "couple learns about love as they erase each other from their memories."

The problem with these films is that all their fun and invention go into the concept. That's doubly or triply the case with the new independent-film darling I'm Not There, which declares, "Bob Dylan was a man of many parts, so we'll have a half-dozen actors play him," or at least different incarnations of him.

The movie has landed the IFC Independent Spirit Awards' first Robert Altman Award and received four other Spirit Award nominations, including best film and best director, for Todd Haynes. At best, it's the film-school equivalent of a head trip: Students can enjoy the melange of styles from mid-Fellini to late-Peckinpah. But it doesn't come close to delivering the perceptions or insight of any 15-minute portion of Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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