Friday 19 October 2007

Im Not There

Trailer | I'm Not There

Mp3 | Bob Dylan - Creep (Radiohead cover)

With I'm Not There, his hotly anticipated follow-up to Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes attempts to find the key to Bob Dylan's life and art by unfolding the larger-than-life personality over seven distinct characters. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whinshaw, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett play the legendary musician at different stages of his career -- or rather, his imagined career, with events and characters drawn as much from the songs as from Dylan's actual biography.

The seven strands of narrative are told in distinct styles peppered with in-jokes, out-and-out delights, and a generous helping of Dylan songs. Marcus Carl Franklin plays Dylan as a black boy growing up in the south, riding boxcars and impersonating Woody Guthrie, Christian Bale covers the early folk years (with Julianne Moore as Joan Baez's alter ego). Cate Blanchett, in delicious black-and-white, goes electric at the Newport jazz festival, meets Allen Ginsberg (David Cross) and stumps reporters with witticisms during the famous tour of England chronicled in D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back.
Richard Gere plays the most curious incarnation, an aged and withdrawn Billy the Kid who has somehow survived and returned to an earlier "weird America" full of carnival freaks and one beautiful dead girl in a casket. Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg enact the early seventies with their infidelities and disappointments, overshadowed by the Vietnam War.

I'm Not There is certainly an enjoyable experiment. The innovative approach pushes further than any traditional biopic could, managing to bite its own tail in a nice cyclical twist that makes Dylan's life appear both specific and inevitable. Ultimately, though, Haynes' quest is as fruitless as reporter Jerry Thompson's search for the truth about Charles Foster Kane -- the mystery of this American Giant can't be solved by splintering him into his constituent parts. Besides, the answer was there all along: like Kane's sled, Dylan's body of work contains everything we ever needed to know about the man. I'm Not There is worth seeing, but in the end, the music of Bob Dylan will outlast anything anybody might have to say about it.
Jürgen Fauth