I’m Not There

I’m Not There

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            The makers of the recent comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” have made the savvy realization that any artist, no matter how iconoclastic or unique or revolutionary, is often reduced to the simplest of Hollywood clichés in any biopic to feature them. Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, by no means similar in their viewpoints or music, recently both had biopics devoted to them, and, well, they were really similar weren’t they?


            Todd Haynes, of “Velvet Goldmine” and “Far From Heaven” fame, is never one to take the conventional path, and has, in his biopic of the folk-rock icon Bob Dylan “I’m Not There,” decided to leap about in time, use many different photographic styles, and cast six actors to play Dylan, despite their genders, ages, or races. This not only allows a wide variety of acting interpretations of Dylan, but also allows Haynes to break free of the Hollywood biopic mould in a spectacular fashion. Bob Dylan, the man who sang about revolution but was never one to succumb to revolutionary rhetoric; who talked about the power of love, but repeatedly cheated on his wives; who constantly turned his back on friends, and said things to alienate them, but seemed to be close to them through his music, is captured I all his contradictory glory. He is large, he contains multitudes, and, thanks to the large cast of Dylans, we get to experience it in a bracing way.


            That said, I must admit, I was totally lost for much of “I’m Not There.” I know very little about Dylan beyond what I’ve memorized from my “Best Of” cassette. Haynes has not only given us a grand tapestry of Dylan himself, but has turned his life into a jumbled mosaic of events, referring partly to his songs, partly to real experiences, and partly to stories about him. Being as unfamiliar as I am with Dylan’s back catalogue, I didn’t get most of the jokes. All I could do was sit there, and let the beautiful abstraction wash over me.


            None of the Dylans are named Bob Dylan. Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is the golden-age Parisian rabble-rouser. Arthur Rimbaud, not the poet (Ben Whishaw) is the boy in trouble with the law. Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) is the media pariah and movie star. Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) is the reclusive troubadour. Woody Guthrie, again, not the real one (Marcus Carl Franklin, a 12-yar-old black actor) is the young runaway trying to become a bluesman. Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) is the bad father. I know not what many of these names mean or what songs they refer to, but, again, I really got into the open-ended story of the single man. Of the actors, Blanchett and Whishaw do the canniest job of not only playing Dylan, but bringing depth and substance to an otherwise completely abstract man.


            The film centers on a motorcycle accident that Dylan suffered early in his career.

             The more you know about Dylan, I think, the more you will enjoy “I’m Not There.” The more you appreciate creative filmmaking, the more you can get behind Haynes’ fascinating new genre of meditation biopic.

Published in: on January 7, 2008 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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