A brilliant film by Todd Haynes on the fractured life of Bob Dylan made in a manner that kinda symbolizes Dylan’s song-writing style. Broken up into seven distinct stages, with each stage played by a different actor (Christian Bale plays two), juxtaposed in a way that flits back and forth between the stages, the film would be difficult for non-Dylan fans – or at least those who are not much aware of the singer’s life and times – to fully appreciate, or even comprehend. Although, whether one is ‘into’ Dylan or not, the film could yet be appreciated on many different levels by anyone with an appreciation of film-making. Shades of Fellini, Goddard and even Richard Lester (in his Beatle-esque period) are easily identified and the ‘Billy the Kid’ section flashes back to Sam Peckinpah’s story of ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ – a film in which Dylan acted.
Having watched ‘Don’t Look Back’ – D.A.Pennebaker’s film that recorded Dylan’s final acoustic tour in England in the mid-sixties – I was struck at how faithful Todd Haynes has been to the original ‘life and times’, but the real mindblower in I’m Not There is the acting of Cate Blanchett playing Jude Quinn – one of the Dylan incarnations in the film – that depicts his androgynous, twitchy, speed-fueled period during that London tour. Blanchett has already walked off with some awards for her performance, including Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. I’m not sure if she won the BAFTA for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, but wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she did. Also nominated for BFCA and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (she’s also nominated by the Academy for Best Actress for her role in Elizabeth: The Golden Age), she may end up with a slew of awards for this breathtaking performance.
There are a bunch of other well known award-winning actors in this film as well. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, depicting Dylan’s ‘folk-singer with a political message’ period, and also Pastor Brown, Dylan’s persona when he was heavily into Jesus. Heath Ledger as Robbie Clark portrays Dylan as actor Jack Rollins in a movie about the star (you may get to see how complex the ‘plot’ of the movie is – and then again…) when Dylan was in the throes of a divorce. Richard Gere plays Dylan as an aging Billy the Kid in a western town – not inappropriately named ‘Riddle’ – full of surrealistic symbolism in one of the colour sequences that are in stark comparison to some of the film’s sparse black and white footage that have a distinct cinema verite and documentary feel to them. Ben Whishaw plays Arthur, named after the poet Rimbaud, who was a major influence on Dylan during his early ‘rebel’ period. Marcus Carl Franklin, a pre-pubescent black kid, plays an itinerant eleven year old guitar playing, folk-singer wannabe, who calls himself Woodie Guthrie (one of Dylan’s biggest influences) and depicts the boy Dylan as having escaped from a juvenile detention center, now on the road with his guitar – his guitar case has painted on it; ‘this machine kills fascists’. Julianne Moore plays Alice Fabian, the Joan Baez character, Charlotte Gainesbourg plays Robbie Clarke’s (Dylan’s) wife and Michelle Williams plays a socialite, Coco, the Edie Sedgwick type character – one of the many groupies that hung around Dylan in hotel suites and green rooms.
The music in the movie is vintage Dylan and contains some of the elements from Don’t Look Back’s concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and other London venues. Dylan’s Tarantula, an experimental novel he wrote in the sixties, is also subliminally evident at different times through the movie. Ed Lachman’s camera work is splendid in that it often jumps back and forth from the verite mode to the more conventional cinematography techniques in a virtually seamless manner that is both engaging, as well as thought-provoking. Todd Haynes’ conception and direction is nothing short of brilliant.
I’m Not There is a treat for anyone who digs Dylan. All the rest of this dazzling movie is just icing on the cake.