I'm Not There
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A conversation with Todd Haynes; The making of the soundtrack; A tribute to Heath Ledger
BOB Dylan remains one of music’s most enigmatic figures – a hugely talented, yet equally flawed individual who has gone through many different stages in his gargantuan career. Like him, loathe him, or don’t even really know him, you have to respect the way he has endured.
I’m Not There, Todd Haynes’ biopic of sorts, is equally as enigmatic in that it attempts to examine the legend through seven distinct stages of his life and by using six different actors to do so. Some of these stages are obvious, others less so, such as those which represent emotional events in the singer’s life and even some of his inspirations.
But it’s this refusal to conform to a typical biopic approach that makes the film such richly compelling viewing, and which enables it to appeal to Dylan converts and cynics alike. As an examination of filmmaking craft, it’s also certain to spark plenty of heated conversations among film buffs of any age, not least because of Haynes’ choice of casting.
The six actors portraying Dylan are Marcus Carl Franklin (a black child actor), Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Christian Bale. All six are note-perfect in very different ways.
Franklin embodies the early years, when Dylan became inspired by the music of folk legend Woody Guthrie and allegedly spent a lot of his time travelling in open-fronted box-cars. He is excellent.
As is Blanchett, who has rightly won the bulk of the plaudits for tackling the singer’s controversial years, when he abandoned folk in favour of rock. She pretty much nails his look and mannerisms and this section, shot in black and white, is by far the most fascinating, including as it does some fleeting hilarity involving The Beatles and a series of confrontations between Blanchett and Bruce Greenwood’s stiff upper-lipped reporter.
Gere, meanwhile, appears as a veteran cowboy, presumably in a nod to Dylan’s own appearance in Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, while Ledger tackles the singer as a failed husband, playing opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg’s long-suffering wife (a representation of the many women in his life).
Of the remaining two actors, Bale represents two sections of Dylan’s life, examining his early years as fame first hit, and then a deeper period when he found religion. And Whishaw completes the line-up and only appears fleetingly to offer observations straight to camera that are designed to reflect the singer’s passion for the poet Rimbaud.
To mix things up still further, Haynes doesn’t opt for a linear approach, and intercuts one segment with another. To some, this may become infuriating, to others it’ll doubtless be inspired. But like Dylan’s music it’s ultimately impossible to ignore or even admire in some way.
The overall result is a film of crazy ambition that impresses and frustrates in equal measure. You won’t learn too much more about Dylan than you did before you went in, but your musical knowledge may feel all the richer for it. I’m Not There is therefore a curiosity piece that does actually deserve to attract a much wider audience than it would initially appear to cater for.
Running time: 2hrs 16mins
UK DVD Release: July 14, 2008