Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm Not There - On DVD May 6th

Part historical, part allegorical, part biography, part mythology, I'm Not There, the anti-biopic by Todd Haynes, captures the essence of one of the most elusive figures in the music world. Although it takes its title from an obscure Bob Dylan track, it also speaks to the film's theme as a study on identity rather than the life of an ever changing and enduring American artist.

"But I loved the name "I'm Not There" as a way of beckoning this idea of this person who's alway moving on, always a step ahead and every time you try to grasp him, contain him--like a flame, he's gone."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes
The film features six different actors portraying seven different characters--or facets of Bob Dylan's evolution. A 13 year old African American boy, Marcus Carl Franklin, plays Woody Guthrie--a "grassroots urchin" who represents the young Robert Zimmerman who adopted the name of a famed Welsh poet as his surname and created an elaborately fictional back story upon his arrival on the New York scene. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a charismatic protest singer who eventually converts to Christianity and evolves into Pastor John, an evangelical preacher and gospel singer. Heath Ledger plays Robbie, an actor playing the part of Jack Rollins in a biopic within an anti-biopic, whose struggles with balancing fame and family mirror the relationship issues Dylan faced with ex-wife Sara Lownds.

Ben Whishaw portrays the poet/philosopher aspect of Dylan as Arthur Rimbaud, a character based on the French poet who influenced Dylan. Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, an outlaw version of a Dylan who has retreated from public life. Haynes says of Billy that he's a Dylan who exists more in the mind--more in the unconscious of our own history. And last but most definitely not least is Cate Blanchett portraying Jude Quinn, the most recognizable Dylanesque character--the Dylan gone electric from mid '65 to mid '66. Blanchett was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for this role and not enough can be said about her mesmerizing performance. She absolutely disappears into the role--she's just phenomenal.
"The only way to get to the core of who he is, is to honor the changes that had defined his life."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes
Eschewing traditional linear storytelling, Haynes cobbles together a movie using different film stock, movie genres, artistic styles, soundtrack producers as well as actors to represent each period in Dylan's life. The stories bounce from one character to the next--paralleling, intersecting and eventually coming full circle. I have to admit, I'm not a big Dylan fan and have very little background on his life and music so I found it hard to follow at times. I'm guessing that even a Dylan fan might find it difficult to understand. But Haynes did not make the film to help us understand Bob Dylan, but to celebrate his complexity.
"People tell you to find yourself and be yourself and this is a sort of freedom but...the ultimate freedom is being able to escape that..."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes

I'm Not There is not an easy film. It's meant to encourage immersion more than comprehension. It's stylish, arty, lyrical, poetic and profound. It's deep and at times you may feel like you're drowning, but it's visually arresting. Haynes uses Dylan's music--both popular and obscure--to underscore the events depicted on screen. soundtrack mixes original Dylan recordings with existing covers, including new versions by a variety of musicians including Ritchie Havens, Iggy Pop, John Doe and Sonic Youth, among others. You've got Eddie Vedder performing All Around the Watchtower and John Doe singing Pressing On in musical quilt that is both eclectic and cohesive.

The two-disc DVD set features:

· 9 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
· Audio Commentary with Director Todd Haynes
· Premiere Featurette
· Making Of I’m Not There
· Subterranean Homesick Blues Music Video
· Audition Tapes – Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin
· Gag Reel
· Conversation with Todd Haynes
· Making of the Soundrack
· Dylan Filmography
· Dylan Discography
· New York Times Article on the Film Written by Robert Sullivan
· On Screen Lyric Stream

The most interesting of the extras is the Conversation with Todd Haynes--which really ought to have been titled "Conversations" as the background and making of the movie is woven together via a variety of interviews Todd Haynes did during the publicity tour for the film--much in the same way his film interweaves its narrative. Haynes, in different clothing and altered hairstyles, almost appears to be played by different actors throughout the featurette, which makes it an oddly comic homage to the film he's discussing.

Haynes doesn't deconstruct the Dylan mythos as much as he creates a new and inventive way to experience the man and his music. The metaphors and metamorphoses he creates issue a challenge to the viewer. As the outlaw character of Billy the Kid breaks out of prison at the end of the film, it symbolically represents Dylan's unceasing struggle not to be limited or defined by others--a quality that Haynes admires and applauds and strives via this film to serve up as inspiration to all of us.
All I can do is be me.
Whoever that is...

- Bob Dylan

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