Monday, May 19, 2008


ABOUT: I'm Not There is a 2007 biographical film inspired by the life of iconicsinger-songwriter Bob Dylan. It depicts six distinct stages of Dylan's life and public persona portrayed by an ensemble cast of actors: Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett, who play characters based on Dylan but with different names.

The film tells its story using non-traditional techniques, similar to the poetic narrative style of Dylan's songwriting. It takes its name from the Dylan outtake "I'm Not There", a song never officially released until its appearance on the film's official soundtrack album. Critically acclaimed, I'm Not There made many top ten film lists for 2007, topping the lists for The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Salon and The Boston Globe.

The film intercuts stories featuring different actors playing characters based on the life or the legend of Bob Dylan. Marcus Carl Franklin, a young black actor, plays a version of the 11-year old Dylan, who calls himself "Woody Guthrie" and escapes from a juvenile correction center by hitching a ride on a train, carrying a guitar labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists." Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a version of Dylan as a young folk singer with a political conscience, and who later becomes "Pastor John," a version of Dylan the born again Christian, here singing gospel songs in a small town church. Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, a version of Dylan at the height of his fame in the 1960s, when his original fan base was rejecting him as a sell-out. Ben Whishaw plays a version of Dylan as a young rebel who calls himself after the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Heath Ledger plays a character named "Robbie Clark", a fictional Hollywood actor presented as best known for his performance in a film about Jack Rollins (the character played by Bale); he also represents Dylan the divorcé, estranged from his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Richard Gere plays the elderly Dylan as an aging Billy the Kid in a surreal Wild West town, who defeats an even more elderly Pat Garrett (played by Bruce Greenwood).

The storylines are shot in different film stocks and styles. The scenes featuring Woody Guthrie, Robbie Clark and Billy the Kid are in color. The scenes involving Jack Rollins/Pastor John are shot on 16mm color stock, and are framed as a documentary with interviews from people who knew him describing his transformation. Jude Quinn's scenes are in black and white, and use surreal imagery based on those in Federico Fellini's (1962). Arthur Rimbaud's scenes are shot on very grainy black and white stock.

MY REVIEW: Have you ever seen the music video for the Elton John song "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore"? It has Justin Timberlake as Elton John and he is going in and out of these rooms that show a different period in his life. I'm Not There is kind of like that music video. The only difference is that as a music video form that idea works but as a 2 hour movie it does not. Especially if it is Dylan, who I think is a great musician, but I can never listen to Dylan unless I am in a Dylan mood.

Do you know what I'm talking about? I have to be in a certain mood to listen to Dylan. I can't just put on a Dylan record at anytime. I have to be in a certain state of mind to listen to Bob Dylan. That's one reason why I did not like I'm Not There. Maybe I should have tried to watch it when I was in that Dylan state of mind but I still don't think it would have helped much.

I wanted to like this movie, I did, but it was just so not there. I loved the scenes with Cate Blanchett. This performance shows that she can play Oscar The Grouch on Sesame Street and pull it off. I also like the scenes with Richard Gere, where he exists in some sort of western Halloween town, which was pretty neat looking. But the rest of the movie is just a mess.

I guess I just don't understand Dylan enough to know everything that the movie contains. If you understand Dylan then maybe you will love it. But I just didn't get it. A main problem I think is the way it jumps around all the different characters. It should have just been one character story after another. All the jumping around just makes it confusing and tiresome. I love listening to Dylan but watching a warped 2 hour movie kind of about his life just didn't work for me. Maybe it will for you.

The special features DVD includes a whole bunch of trailers, a behind the scenes look at the editing of the film and a Bob Dylan discography section. The movie DVD disc includes a director's commentary track.




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