I'm Not There2007
I'm Not There (2007)
Critic Consensus: I'm Not There's unique editing, visuals, and multiple talented actors portraying Bob Dylan make for a deliciously unconventional experience. Each segment brings a new and fresh take on Dylan's life.
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as Jude Quinn
as Jack Rollins/Pastor John
as Billy the Kid
as Robbie Clark
as Woody Guthrie
as Arthur Rimbaud
as Old Man Arvin
as Hobo Joe
as Hobo Moe
as Alice Fabian
as Allen Ginsberg
as Coco Rivington
as The Narrator
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Critic Reviews for I'm Not There
There are those who will applaud what Haynes and his actors have accomplished, and I can understand its appeal on an intellectual level. But I am not a supporter of film without form or art without structure.
It's brilliant, demanding, exasperating; it's undramatic but absorbing, more enigmatic than revealing, up itself and wildly inventive.
A crazy film which shouldn't work, but for most of the time does.
This works so well that long before the end you don't merely accept the use of these wildly diverse personae, but you may also even wonder whether Dylan's story could properly be told any other way
Audience Reviews for I'm Not There
Taking literally from it's subject matter, that which refuses to be classified and boxed, this is sort of a biography of Bob Dylan, whoever that is, which is the point of the work. And so the lead is played by six, count 'em, six actors, all working to convey some indefinable aspect about the man who certainly could be said to be one of the foremost to have formed 60's counterculture music, and more. It's the most interesting biography I've ever seen, so much so that I, a devoted Dylan denier, decided to rethink my denials. Okay, so maybe he is a phony, but he's a real phony, or maybe not. Whoever the guy is, his music, his art, speaks for itself. Give it a watch.
I've spoken in the past about the various problems associated with making biopics. In my review of Ed Wood I commented that there is a continual clash between "the supposedly objective, historical record of events and the subjective sensibility of the filmmaker", which can only be resolved if the filmmaker makes his or her intentions clear from the outset. I'm Not There is an audacious twist on the biographical genre, which like its contemporary Capote maintains a level of distance and detachment from the character it is depicting or inspired by. Todd Haynes gives us a handful of characters or personas, each playing a different part of Bob Dylan's character in isolation from the others. Ultimately the film never quite comes together like Haynes' previous work, but it deserves a lot of credit for its originality and moments of brilliance. Whether by merit or by reputation, Bob Dylan is one of the hardest celebrities to put on screen. He is in the company of Marilyn Monroe, Peter Sellers and John Lennon, being someone of so many identities and contradicting parts that any performance risks being just a good impression or pleasing caricature. And that's before we get into the legal battle surrounding the previous attempt to depict him, in the Edie Sedgwick biopic Factory Girl. Dylan's lawyers argued that the character Billy Quinn was a means of implicating Dylan in Sedgwick's death, and attempted to stop the film being released until they were satisfied that their client wasn't being defamed. Considering that the Dylan cipher was being played by Hayden Christiansen, you have to wonder why they bothered. From this perspective, splitting Dylan into six different personas (none of whom are called Bob Dylan) makes perfect sense. It allows Haynes to have the best of both worlds, giving us all the detail we need in focussing on small sections of Dylan's life, and allowing the director to express his opinion in the demarcations he makes between the characters. We get from the very start that it's a personal interpretation of Dylan's life and legacy, and the amount of detail that goes into evoking each period compensates for any feeling that what we are seeing may not be entirely accurate. In terms of the actual performances of 'Dylan', they are quite a mixed bag. The best performance by a county mile is Cate Blanchett, who takes on the Jude Quinn persona of Dylan circa 1965, when he was booed at the Newport Folk Festival for playing an electric guitar. Blanchett plays Quinn as a skeletal, disaffected, cynical Dylan, rarely seen without his cigarettes or sunglasses, openly mocking the people around him and seeming to not give a damn about what anyone says or thinks of him. Blanchett brilliantly conveys the feeling of someone whose success has painted them into a corner, and who responded by deliberately alienating his 'fans' - a tactic which culminated in the 1970 album Self-Portrait, which Dylan described in interviews as a joke to get people off his back. The only downside to Blanchett's performance is that it leaves the other Dylans in the movie feeling overshadowed. Christian Bale is very good as both the young protest singer of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and the born-again gospel musician on Slow Train Coming. It's much more of an impression but is still convincing, especially considering he has the greatest character leap in the whole film. On the downside, Ben Whishaw feels underused and a little flat, Richard Gere effectively plays himself, and Heath Ledger doesn't look, sound or feel right. You might argue that on this last occasion it doesn't matter, since he's playing an actor playing the Christian Bale character. But there's something about his performance which feels forced, and we struggle to empathise with him during his scenes. Whether in and of itself or because of the varying performances, the central device of I'm Not There sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. On the good side, the inclusion of Marcus Carl Franklin as 'Woody Guthrie' does make sense. Guthrie was Dylan's childhood idol, and by having the character played by a black actor, it conveys the idea that both artists have their musical roots in old slave songs and the blues. Guthrie's guitar case, which carries the slogan 'This Machine Kills Fascists', is a further reflection of the characters' shared interest in the politics of their day, whether the Great Depression or the Cold War. The other interesting idea brought out by the device is the idea of celebrity being something intangible. Just as it can be hard nowadays to rationalise what certain people are famous for, so I'm Not There depicts Dylan's celebrity as something which cannot ever be fully grasped or described beyond the recognition that he probably deserves it. It's a welcome admission on the part of Haynes that someone as influential as Dylan cannot be reduced down to a single performance in a two-hour film - or at least, not one of this scope. But here too there is a problem. Since Haynes is effectively admitting the impossibility of depicting Dylan, you could make the argument that the film could have just been made about the Jude Quinn character. Out of all the personas, Blanchett's is the most dramatically interesting, the most controversial, and the most in keeping with the central themes. The film would have been more thematically and narratively focussed if it attempted a deconstruction of this character and his mythos, akin to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. As it is, I'm Not There is a film of many interesting parts which only occasionally connect. The part of the film which most indicates this shambolic feeling is the section which Roger Ebert described as "the Richard Gere cowboy sequence". Gere plays outlaw Billy the Kid, who has gone into hiding from lawman Pat Garrett. These scenes are intended to pastiche Dylan's performance in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, as well as conveying Dylan's nature as an outsider. But instead they feel like one long non-sequitur, with vague ideas about justice and rebellion coming to the fore but never being developed. Gere looks and feels out of place, like he had slept for thirty years and woke up thinking he was still in Days of Heaven. This sequence points to the biggest problem with I'm Not There, namely that it never truly gets under the skin of its main character. The film has a similar problem to The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, in that it recreates key events from Dylan's life without explaining why they are so significant. While Dylan fans will relish in the detail and pick up on every reference to his back catalogue, the film doesn't provide any real way in for the casual viewer who may be coming to Dylan for the first time. And like Gandhi, it relies all too often on us being interested in the reputation of the man, when what is really interesting and engaging is the different aspects of his character. In short the film gives us a number of performances, all of them artistically interesting but none of them particularly empathetic. The same goes for the some of the wonderful imagery contained in the film. One of the best moments comes when Dylan begins performing in Newport: his bands open their instrument cases, produce machine guns and proceed to open fire on their audience. It's a brilliant metaphor for the feeling of betrayal that surrounded Dylan's decision to go electric, and its rebellious quality recalls the ending of If..... But as much as we admire this moment, it still feels like a moment rather than a piece in a bigger theme or narrative. At its lowest points the film could just pass for a series of music videos, taking Dylan's music and pairing it with the oddest choice of images. I'm Not There is an admirable failure which contains moments of brilliance and insight but never entirely pulls itself together. It is possible to enjoy it purely for the music, and Haynes' status as a visually intriguing director remains assured. But all the good moments, especially Cate Blanchett's performance, make its shortcomings all the more disappointing. Dylan fans will be glued to its every move; the rest of us will wonder what all the fuss is about.
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