Don’t Expect Any Answers from “I’m Not There”
-Jared M. Feldschreiber
Todd Haynes’ quixotic Bob Dylan semi-biopic, “I’m Not There” will fascinate and potentially alienate his audience. It seeks to unravel the cryptic Bob Dylan conundrum, a task that can only be done through a ‘theatre of the absurd’ scenario. The mystique of Bob Dylan is presented as a ‘prophet,’ ‘poet’ ‘rebel,’ ‘outlaw,’ and of course, Cate Blanchett. Haynes’ esoteric and whimsical film becomes an amalgam of various shades of Dylan, toying with his persona, with particular characterizations employing his mercurial personalities befitting a searching artist.
There was a pre-screening of the film on Wednesday November 14, at Harmony Theatre in West Hollywood. It officially opens on November 21.
The film depicts 6 aspects of “Bob Dylan,” whose name is never used in the film, rather he is referred to as “Robbie” (Heath Ledger), “Woody” (Marcus Carl Franklin), “Jude” (Cate Blanchett), “Jack/John,” (Christian Bale) “Billy” (Richard Gere) and Arthur (Ben Whishaw) as a seeker of truth. He is someone who attempts to stay true to his roots and integrity, without compromising or masking himself in the process.
The film is certainly not a standard biopic in the “Ray” or “Walk the Line” tradition, rather a pensive rumination on the complexity of a great American artist. It seeks to show Dylan’s embodiment of his dreams through these personas (a young black kid, a western outlaw, a 19th century Romantic poet, an actor and a preacher). It is a supposition of the lives Dylan sought to live, perhaps rather than the life he actually lived. For those who know details about his real life, whether through documentary films like “Don’t Look Back,” “No Direction Home,” or the more obscure “Eat the Document” and “Renaldo and Clara,” as well as feature films like “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and “Masked and Anonymous,” they will marvel at Haynes’ uncanny ability to weave dialogue extrapolated from these films to fit his screenplay.
Logic and time are neither very palatable nor present in “I’m Not There.” Sure, the audience knows that they are being transported to mostly a young Dylan, but also to an aging western outsider in the Richard Gere-played “Billy’s”carnival-esque sequences. Blanchett transforms herself, absurdly, into the Dylan mystique of “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.”
Her character is that of a wiry, frizzy-haired and slim framed rock star. Certainly her mannerisms mirror that shade of Dylan’s persona and her sequences are shot in a Fellini-esque “8 ½” style, clearly to portray this rock star as a man alienated from his audience who either takes his music for granted or expects something more.
Marcus Carl Franklin, an 11 year old black boy plays “Woody,” as the guitar-toting ramblin’ boy on boxcars telling stories of his dreams to continue in the great folk music tradition. It is both a marvel to watch Franklin playing Dylan’s tunes with gusto (which includes a performance with folk-legend Richie Havens), but also gets to the core of Dylan’s authentic spirit. Franklin is the least known of the 6-shades of Dylan, but clearly the most genuine and perhaps even revealing, as the real Bob Dylan connected to blacks and others who were disenfranchised.
Ultimately, the absurdity of “I’m Not There” falls to the weight of its lofty hopes. The goal of the film is never met, despite remarkable choreography, and particularly the camera’s purposeful and varying film stock. Haynes loves his material and ardent Dylan fans who are intrigued to see a re-enactment of his domestic life (encapsulated by Heath Ledger’s “Robbie” and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Claire), ultimately learn nothing about the core of Dylan, except by Franklin’s character. Luckily, the music takes care of that.
Thanks to Jared for the review.