Written by El Puerquito Magnifico
Perhaps I’m not the best person to write a review of a movie based on Bob Dylan’s life. While I’m definitely a fan of his music, and hold his songwriting ability in high regard, I’m not one of those folks who own all of the albums, all the bootlegs and has seen Bob in concert a million times. I like most of what I’ve heard from the man, and have been touched by more than a few of his tunes, but I’ll admit to missing the deeper meaning in a lot of his stuff as well. I dig the guy, and respect his talent and his legacy, but I’m not a member of the “Church of Bob” by any means.
On the other hand, maybe I’m the perfect choice? I won’t be watching the film through the eyes of an obsessed Dylan fan, but simply watching a film as a lover of cinema. My review won’t be written through the haze of rose-colored glasses or biased in any way due to idol worship. It’ll just be a review of a movie based on a guy I know a little about, but have heard a whole lot about. But enough about me and my lack of Dylan knowledge; let’s get to the review.
If you’re looking for a deeper insight into Bob Dylan the man, or a by-the-book biography, you’re not going to find it in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Rather than tell a straightforward tale that starts at Point A and takes the logical route to Point B, C, and so on, Haynes tells a very non-linear tale, jumping around through different eras, shooting in different film stocks and casting six different actors in the lead role. In fact, none of the characters in the film are even called Bob Dylan. I’m Not There is a movie that is every bit as mysterious as Dylan’s lyrics and as enigmatic as the man himself.
We’re not really getting the story of Bob Dylan’s life here; we’re getting a bunch of animated snapshots of his career and public persona. It’s a very surreal experience, full of metaphor and symbolism. It’s a lot like a Dylan song brought to life, and like many Dylan songs, I won’t pretend that I understood the deeper meaning behind all of it. Like Dylan’s singing voice, the film’s voice can be a bit on the abrasive side at times, but like most of Dylan’s music, I can’t help but see the talent behind the whole thing, and on occasion, be quite moved by it.
Casting six actors as different aspects of Dylan’s personality is a risky gambit. It could fall very easily into the realm of the pretentious and annoying art film. Luckily for the viewer, it does not. Well, not very often, at any rate, and even when it does, the performances are so captivating, you can’t help but enjoy it anyway. A lot has already been said about Cate Blanchett’s performance as Dylan at the height of his fame, so I won’t go into too much further detail. I’ll simply tell you that she is awesome. If you’ve ever watched an old interview with the man, you’ll see that she’s got his mannerisms and voice down to a science. It’s actually a pretty freaky thing to watch.
I’m Not There is not a film for everybody though. As I’ve already said, the story is not told with any type of structure. This is not a biopic along the lines of La Bamba, Ray, or Walk The Line. It’s actually a bit slow moving and even mildly boring at times. It is, however, a film that is every bit as creative as the man whom it is about. If you’re a hardcore Dylan fan, I’m guessing this film is one you won’t want to miss. If you’re not, it’s an interesting look at a legend and his body of work, and it’s worth checking out anyway.
The two-disc collector’s edition features on-screen song lyrics, commentary and an introduction by director/co-writer Todd Haynes. The second disc has got all the outtakes, deleted scenes, auditions and interviews with cast and crew that you could possibly ask for, plus a “Dylanography” with filmography, discography, bibliography, chronology and probably a few other “ologys” that weren’t mentioned on the box.