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 cinéma vérité black-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." --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Ruminations on the life of Bob Dylan, where seven characters embody a different aspect of the musician's life and work.