I'm Not There
Watching Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, you are led to believe Bob Dylan comprises six different characters. In all actuality, the film brilliantly captures multiple stages of Dylan’s life and career with six distinct composites of the man. When you have A-list actors and a vision that extends beyond conventional wisdom, the possibilities seem endless. A new double DVD featuring the film and a batch of extras explores that and much more.
I’m Not There is not so much a biopic as it is a glimpse into Dylan’s fragmented psyche and natural proclivity for stirring up controversy. As “Woody,” Marcus Carl Franklin is a young guitar-toting transient wisecracking his way across America. His jam session of “Tombstone Blues” with Richie Havens is a spirited romp for the books.
Dashing and disheveled, Ben Whishaw appears as “Arthur” briefly between the longer scenes, plying nonsensical verse like French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. Christian Bale embraces two Dylans as early 60s, truth-seeking folkie “Jack Rollins” and late 70s, truth-seeking preacher “Pastor John.” Julianne Moore as “Alice Fabian,” the Joan Baez to Bale’s Dylan, convincingly tells the tale of Jack Rollins, proclaimed by the New York Times as the “Troubadour of Conscience.”
Meanwhile, Richard Gere quietly assumes Dylan’s Old West alter ego, John Wesley Harding meets Billy the Kid, usually in seclusion, but in search of his dog. He eventually stumbles into a morose scene populated by wayward children, circus folk and towns people breezily swaying to the strained tones of “Goin’ To Acapulco.”
Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning performance is a page right out of Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s 1965 road film of Dylan’s 1965 British tour. The willowy actress does a phenomenal job jabbing with journalists, hitting on willowy birds like her (although she’s playing a him), frolicking with Allen Ginsburg and the Beatles, and telling off an English heckler who calls her “Jude Quinn” a “Judas.” The Felliniesque quality lends an authentically surreal air to Blanchett’s priceless Dylanesque mannerisms. The bard must have loved it in the screening room.
Heath Ledger, who passed away a couple of months after the film’s theatrical run, plays “Robbie,” an uptown actor portraying Jack Rollins (or a facsimile thereof) in a biopic (the old film within a film). Adding to his plight is his alluring French wife (the enchanting Charlotte Gainsbourg), echoing Dylan’s own 12-year marriage to Sarah Lownds.
Eclectic Dylan covers mixed in with some of his own interpretations jell seamlessly throughout the film shot in various colors and stocks. The double-CD soundtrack adds another layer to I’m Not There by featuring wild and wonderful renditions of classic Dylan songs slotted alongside not-so-well-known Dylan songs by Eddie Vedder, Los Lobos, John Doe, Willie Nelson, the Black Keys and many others.
Drawing on Pennebaker’s frantic portraits of 60s Dylan, Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, a more recent Dylan documentary, and the singer-songwriter’s own 300-page tome, Chronicles – Volume 1 — Haynes skillfully balances fact and fiction, defying easy categorization, ultimately offering an original take on real and not-so-real anecdotes that loosely tell the blurry story of Bob Dylan.
After you watch the film, you’ll want to dig deeper into the second DVD filled with deleted scenes, outtakes, auditions, interviews, commentaries, featurettes, filmographies, discographies, trailers, making-ofs, multiple video parodies of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and a beautiful film tribute to Heath Ledger. During the red carpet premiere for the film (also included on the second DVD), Ledger says I’m Not There isn’t your typical biopic. Instead, he explains, you leave the movie knowing very little about Bob Dylan. More than likely, that’s exactly the way the self-proclaimed farmer likes it. And who ever heard of a fatalistic farmer?
~ Shawn Perry