Unapologetically audacious, I'm Not There is more post-modern puzzle than by-the-numbers biopic. A title card sets the scene: "Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan." Yet the film features no figure by that name. Instead, writer/director Todd Haynes presents six characters, each incarnating different stages in the artist's career. Perfume's Ben Whishaw, a black-clad poet, serves as a slippery sort of narrator. The action begins with the wanderings of an 11-year-old black runaway named "Woody Guthrie" (Marcus Carl Franklin)--his raucous duet with Richie Havens on "Tombstone Blues" is a highlight--and ends with a silver-haired Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) watching the Old West die before his eyes. In the interim, there's the folk singer-turned-preacher (Christian Bale), the actor (Heath Ledger), and the rock star (Cate Blanchett, who has Don't Look Back Dylan down to a science). The chronology is purposefully non-linear, and editor Jay ! Rabinowitz cuts rapidly, Jean-Luc Godard-style, between cin? v?t?lack-and-white and saturated colour, Richard Lester-like slapstick and Fellini-inspired surrealism (Ed Lachman served as cinematographer).
What makes the picture fun for Dylan fans--and potentially frustrating for neophytes--is that every album and movie bears an alternate title. Ledger's Robbie, for instance, stars in "Grain of Sand," actually a reference to the Pete Seeger song. As in Haynes' glam rock reverie Velvet Goldmine, the trickery involves the entire cast. While Julianne Moore plays former lover Alice, a dead ringer for Joan Baez, Michelle Williams embodies elusive scenester Coco, i.e. Edie Sedgwick. If I'm Not There is less affecting than Control, the year's other big music film, it rewards repeat viewings like few biographical features. The soundtrack mixes originals with covers, like Jim James's heartfelt "Goin' to Acapulco."
- A conversation with Todd Haynes
- The making of the soundtrack
- A tribute to Heath Ledger
Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven) delivers this dazzling, experimental take on the life of popular music's most revered and enigmatic artist: Bob Dylan. In keeping with the impossible-to-pin-down nature of Dylan himself, Haynes chose to cast six different actors to portray several incarnations of the groundbreaking troubadour. The result is a challenging, sprawling work that spans several decades and genres. Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) is a young black child with a folk music obsession; Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) is an upstart folksinger whose protest songs have ignited an entire generation; Arthur (Ben Wishaw) is a Rimbaud-esque figure who has begun to embrace a new form of lyrical poetry; Robbie (Heath Ledger) is a well-known actor whose marriage to the lovely Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) crumbles under the weight of his lifestyle; Billy (Richard Gere) is a slippery frontiersman who echoes Dylan's infatuation with the Old West and American folklore; and, finally, there is the substance-abusing, confrontational Jude (Cate Blanchett), who represents Dylan in the turbulent mid-1960s.
Much in the same way that Dylan appropriated a vast array of musical styles to create his own vernacular, Haynes does the same thing with I'm Not There, using his expansive knowledge of movie history to pay homage to a variety of movements and genres (Godard, Fellini, Lester, etc.). The typically extraordinary cinematographer Edward Lachman outdoes even himself this time around, incorporating so many different visual styles that it's impossible to decide which is the most beautiful. While the cast all fare well in their roles, it is Cate Blanchett who runs away with the picture, proving once again that she is one of the finest actors the movies have ever seen.
From The Studio
I'm Not There is an unconventional journey into the life and times of Bob Dylan. Six actors portray Dylan as a series of shifting personae - from the public to the private to the fantastical - weaving together a rich and colourful portrait of this ever-elusive icon.