Or, as I like to call it: The Bob Dylans movie.
First things first: I really enjoyed this cinematic slice of mindfuck.
Second things second: I have never been so intimidated about writing about anything in my life.
But, I bit the bullet and here goes:
I am a Bob Dylan fan as much as the next person. Which means: I do think that he made some of the most incadescent music of the 20th century. I own and love the records, I am familiar with (if not all, then most) of his “incarnations” and I never really tried too hard to understand him fully, because I always figured: why try to win a battle you’re already bound to lose.
Well, thankfully, Tod Haynes decided to win said battle.
And, well, he came as close to victory as anyone ever will.
What we have on our hands is probably
a. the best homage to Dylan that will ever be made
b. the closest we’ll get to the (sadly lost) spirit of 60s art film (Alphaville et al) as we will get anytime soon
c. the craziest / most ambitious and yet somehow wildly succesful rock musical of all time (and see my Across the Universe review to see how I feel about rock musicals in general)
They hand you a little booklet as you enter E street which is supposed to prepare you for what is ahead, but, let me tell you: use it or lose it.
Here is the gist, for what its worth (and even IMDB gave up on having a synopsis to this): 6 actors play different phases of Dylan.
We have: Marcus Carl Franklin as an 11 year old travelling troubadour named Woody Guthrie (Dylan’s personal hero and with a background very close to the imaginary story Dylan told of his upbringing when arriving to New York), Christian Bale as Jack Rollins a protest era folk singer / preacher, Heath Ledger as Robbie, an actor playing Jack in a movie who himself becomes a version of Dylan, Ben Winshaw (last seen in “Perfume”) as Arthur (as in Rimbaud)-the poet, Richard Gere as Billy (The Kid) and Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn who looks and feels almost eerily similar to Dylan’s “putting on the media” persona.
Let is also be said that while everyone does a terrific job here, Cate (who, I will freely admit, I am 100% gay for) is THE VERY DEFINITION OF AMAZING AND MESMERIZING AND THIS PERFORMANCE SHOULD BE A SHOE-IN FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD.
The stories span approximately a century and Haynes (a little more on him in a moment) peppers it with all star human mementos: Julianne Moore stands in for Joan Baez, David Cross is Allan Ginsberg, Beatles pop in, Michelle Williams is Edie Sedgwick (even if she is called Coco here-actual names are of minimal importance in this movie, btw), Charlotte Gainsbourg plays this movie’s Suze Rotolo and the list goes on.
The music, in all its genre-bending, time-travellin’ glory is intricately woven into the stories and it never feels obtrusive or forced (as it sometimes did in, say, “Across the Universe”) and makes for some of the most poignant music montaging ever seen in movies (and let it be said, I love even the shitty music montaging)
It all could have turned into a sloppy mess but Todd Haynes keeps the reigns on it. If Ang Lee is probably today’s most versatile director, Haynes is probably its most astute pop-culture commentator. Ever since he made “The Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” (viewing the barbie starring story of anorexia is still considered one of rights of passage for any earnest film student) and “Safe” (which is sadly, not available on DVD) through his glam rock flirtations in “Velvet Goldmine” and heartbreaking Douglas Sirk inspired melodrama of “Far from Heaven”, Haynes can take an era, a person, or an idea of a person and make it into something quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The man’s work is a masterclass in unliterary adaptations.
And “I’m Not There” is its cherry on top.
And don’t try to overanalyze it (wait for the, hopefully, extras ladden DVD for that) but just enjoy it in all its audio-visual glory.